On Evolving Dreams and the Prospect of “Starting Over”

She might not look like what you pictured when you were 16. Her job might not be cool.
Her hair might not be flowing like a mermaid. And she might be really serious about something, or someone. And she might be a lot happier than you are right now.

— Katherine to Jessa, Girls

___

I briefly, and recently, worked with a girl five years my junior—fresh out of undergrad—who expressed, during one of our first shifts together, that she wanted to work with victims of sex trafficking.

She explained how she wanted to start a private company that would run investigations to recover victims and integrate them back into society. She capped this vision off with the belief that, in order to move on and lead a normal life, victims should be discouraged from telling their stories.

“It’s not good for people to talk about their trauma, over and over,” she said.

I looked at her sideways, and briefly questioned her on the effectiveness of this method. But beyond that, I didn’t really say much.

About a week or so later, I’d tell her, “I’m considering going back to school to become a therapist.” And it was her turn to look at me sideways.

“Oh,” she said, and then—not immediately after, but somewhere along the way in our conversation—“I just picture you being more nomadic and artsy.”

Some past version of me would’ve been thrilled to hear this latter response–to be perceived as nomadic, like a girl who wears bells and doesn’t believe in shirts. While current-me—the me-est me—felt mildly disappointed by her former and doubtful, “Oh.” (A response I’ve received a few times since the idea of becoming a therapist first entered my mind.)

Oh.

It’s like I’m letting people down. Like I’m admitting all the cynics who said, in response to my writing degree, What are you going to do with that?, were right. Like I’ll never pursue anything creative ever again. Like that part of my “career” is totally over—as if it ever really started to begin with.

***

About a month ago, I was accepted into an M.F.A. program for creative writing, and I was kind of surprised when the admission didn’t automatically render this other prospect—to return to school with the intent of becoming a therapist—completely irrelevant.

To “be a writer” is something I’ve always wanted. It’s something I’ve told myself I’d pursue to the bitter end, down whatever—and every—avenue. I told myself this under the pretense that I would look back and regret it if I didn’t try absolutely everything I possibly could. But then, I found myself at yet another interview, for yet another receptionist job, being asked, “In your career, what’s your biggest regret thus far?” And I thought: How many times am I going to do this? How many interviews can I sit through, half-heartedly, before I realize that—maybe my interviewing skills don’t suck? Maybe I just don’t want to be a receptionist all that much.

***

In undergrad, my favorite professor always said, “If you want to be a writer, do something else.” He didn’t say it as a discouragement from writing, but as a reminder that, in order to write well, one has to experience new things. And I took that to heart, in my own way. I told myself: Do the crappy jobs. Be the server, the cashier, the front desk girl—get shit on for a living. It’ll give you something to write about. And—yeah—that all might’ve passed for artistic pursuit in my early 20s. But, now, as I’m getting older and sealing up the cracks in my identity—have done, and will continue to do, the work of healing—I’ve started to seriously consider just how much I have always sold myself short.

All my life, I’ve said, “Writing is the only thing I’m good at.” And I allowed so much of my identity and self-worth—if not all of it—to be determined by this one talent. I honestly believed I had nothing else to offer. I put all my eggs in a single basket marked “starving artist” and did the crappy jobs. Because, I thought, that was it for me. But, over the past year and a half, my other talents have been brought to my attention. And now, in light of having been accepted into grad school, I can’t help but wonder if further education in writing would just be another way in which I sell myself short.

At the core of my desire to write, there has always been a desire to make other people feel less alone; to connect with humanity, and give people permission to keep telling their stories—however many times they need. And, even though it’s been a jagged pill, I’ve come to the understanding that my writing might never reach a wide enough audience to achieve this goal—at least not in the ways a career in mental health could. Which, might seem like my giving up on a dream—but it doesn’t feel that way to me.

If anything it feels like finally accepting, and admitting, that I am more than writing; that I can be of service to others in a way that runs deeper than counting out change and biting my tongue and blogging about it later.

It’s a chance to provide myself with a sense of purpose that “starving artist” never has, or will. Because—although there is a part of me that will always be dark and tormented and longing for something that isn’t there, my “nomadic” spirit—it’s a relief, to accept that I also have a deep seeded need for stability that deserves to be met. In spite of my past self, probably sighing in response from the depths of personal history: Oh.

I guess I find it eerie. How much I’ve changed since I first stepped out of undergrad and into the “real” world.

When my aforementioned co-worker told me—essentially—that repression was pivotal in terms of healing, I felt like telling her: You have no idea about the real world. I wanted to say: You wait. Someday you’re going to encounter someone so entitled, it’ll shake the foundation of everything you think you know.

So much of her cluelessness reminded me of who I used to be, and could never be again—not even if I tried.

***

I used to have this vision of myself—she runs away to the southernmost part of the country, and doesn’t need anything except for some dollar store paperbacks and a bikini.

She wants to be as far away from everyone as she can be, without drowning. So whatever has or hasn’t happened to her will look so far away, it won’t matter.

She might be a dream.

And I might be a lot happier than she is right now.

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My Five Year Plan is Whatever: Happy New Year!

About a month ago I was at a job interview—which went well, but not great—and when I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I didn’t have an answer.

“I—I don’t know,” I began, before adding, very stupidly, “I want a life.”

Later I told Ben—my boyfriend—about how the question had rendered me speechless.

“Millennials don’t have the luxury of a five year plan,” I texted, with a vicious tone inside my head, “Like—there’s no professional way for me to tell them that my education and talents aren’t lucrative, and I can’t afford another twelve hundred dollar migraine. I can’t even see myself with good health insurance in five years. Whatever is my plan!”

He responded, “That question is a trap. If you tell them you see yourself working for them, you seem unambitious. If you tell them you’re going to go to grad school, or find a career in your degree, they’ll act like you’re a bad investment. It’s a lazy thing to ask.”

Sometimes I wish I could just level with people: “Look, I can read and write and show up on time and do whatever you say—but no. Most of what you have to offer—this office, this store, this company—will never ever be my top priority or passion. This isn’t what I want to be doing, but I’ll do it—and I’ll do it well, regardless—because I need money. I don’t have time to worry about five years from now when I’m already worried, right now.”

But it’s not acceptable. Admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing, or are going to be doing, and that you’re still trying to figure it out.

“Yeah,” Ben said—on the subject of five year plans, once more—two weeks later, “Never answer that question honestly.”

It’s not that I’m completely out of touch with what I want, and I definitely have a better sense of that than I did—say—three years ago. However, I have no satisfactory answer for where I see myself in five years. In fact, it’s already been long and arduous enough—just getting myself to a place where I don’t worry about not having the future figured out; where I can allow myself the patience to take things day by day. (Why is a forward-thinking individual—someone who’s experiencing life as a series of checkboxes—more valid, or reliable—in the professional sense—than a present minded individual? What difference does it make, where I see myself in five years, if I’m willing and capable of doing the job now?)

I guess, what I’m trying to say is: with the new year approaching, I can get so down on myself about this year’s failures. (I didn’t get into grad school; I submitted five essays for publication and the majority were declined, with the remaining two left in limbo; I haven’t finished any of the fiction pieces I started; I’m still not making enough money to be financially independent from my parents; I’ve accrued credit card debt; I don’t have health insurance in spite of working 40+ hours a week; I lost my best friend; I didn’t get a call back after the job interview, etc.)

For the past three months, I’ve sat around, torturing myself, thinking about how I don’t try hard enough, or that I don’t do enough.

I flicked through dated issues of Nylon magazine—publication dates ranging from 2010 to 2013—and scoffed when I came to a photo of Lena Dunham—aged 23—being featured as an established writer and director. (I remember bitterly thinking in the spirit of ho-hum: “I could be a ‘director’ too—if only I had rich poet-parents who sent me to a special creative-kid middle school.”)

It came as a sort of panic, flipping through those dated magazines and seeing so many successful people that were, also, so wildly young: What have I been doing with all of my time?

It’s not that 2018 has been a bad year so much as turning 26 has been hard. (My ex boyfriend used to always say, “Something about turning 26 is really hard.” And I’d dismiss him, thinking it was a ploy to delegitimize my own experience and opinion—considering he’s only 11 months older than me. Now that I’m actually 26, I realize what he meant.)

It’s like—from ages 21 to 25—everyone is constantly reminding you how young you are, and how much time you have. And then—out of left field—26 hits and, overnight, you start gaining weight in ways you never did before, and your brow wrinkles don’t totally disappear at the completion of an expression, and all your peers start joining pyramid schemes, and your ironic T-shirts don’t look so ironic anymore, etc.

It’s the identity crisis of ages, basically. And—without as much external confirmation that there is “still time”—I’ve had to continuously ground myself: Do I really believe I’ve accomplished nothing? Or am I just judging myself based on how I’d look on paper? (My answer to the former is always no. My answer to the latter is always yes.)

I’ve had to remind myself that I, at least, applied to grad school; that I even submitted pieces for publication, in the first place; that I’ve started writing fiction, at all; that I—finally—moved out of my parent’s house; that I left a bad work environment the moment I realized it was bad; that I set a boundary, and stuck to it—remained true to a promise I made to myself, at the close of 2017.

I don’t minimize, or invalidate, my own feelings and perceptions anymore—especially not for the comfort of other people. (Something I decided I wanted to unlearn, back in 2016, after a weekend where I took a bunch of drugs and wound up at the ER with a psychiatrist in my face, like, “So, are you trying to kill yourself?”) And, through this slow unlearning, I’m finally in a place where I feel healthy enough—mentally and emotionally—to begin turning my potential energy into kinetic, regardless of whether I feel “ready” or not.

It might seem as if no time is ever going to be a “good” time, but—more often than not—I think we’re where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing, in spite of how lost we might appear.

Here’s to another year of trying, for better or worse.

Happy New Year!

(Featured Image Credit: Ambivalently Yours, 2018, @ambivalentlyyours)

“Crazy” Girl: Thoughts on Healing, Wholeness, and Compassion in a Morally Divided World

a-16

Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

—Chuck Palhniuk, “Exodus”

I said, “It might sound sad, but it really isn’t—at least I’ll always have my own company.”

My mother said, “You were always very good at being your own friend.”

And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” popped into my head like scripture: “She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I thought about how he made the statement sound so damning by sticking “self-defense” in the middle of it.

I thought about the character he was referring to: Judy Jones, one of literature’s first manic-pixie-dream girls. A beautiful depressed girl who smiles at chicken liver the same way she smiles at all the men who obsess over her—allotting her that added edge of derangement. How a story about a girl like Judy could only end with her being married off to an abusive asshole, rendering her dead in the spiritual sense. Hence: Winter in “Winter Dreams”.

It’s the tired tale of Manic-Pixie-Dream Girl turned Snow Queen. These are the kinds of female characters I held close in adolescence: Alaska, from John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Effy Stonemen, from Skins seasons 1, 2, and 4. And Daisy, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Their plotlines, however poetic and mysterious, only serve as limiting windows of female irresponsibility and destruction. With their characters constantly acting out, as if to beg producers, and writers alike, for some semblance of normalcy—the potential to grow beyond female trauma and spiritual death.

A level of complexity they’re, unsurprisingly, never granted.

(Alaska kills herself—or does she?—right after the novel’s male protagonist decides she’s a shallow bitch. Effy hits that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock, tries to kill herself, fails, grows up to be a dead-inside businesswoman who sleeps with her narcissistic boss and, eventually, loses everything. Meanwhile, Daisy runs down her “horrible” husband’s mistress, totally ditches “nice” guy Gatsby for said “horrible” husband, and is ultimately rendered “horrible” herself.)

“She had come, in self-defense, to nourish herself wholly from within.”

I only recently began to understand that, as individuals, we’re supposed to “nourish” ourselves “wholly from within”. That this is not a defense mechanism reserved for the jaded and two-dimensional girls of fiction.

It’s not a defense mechanism, period.

☁︎

“I was an asshole, you were crazy…”

I understood this statement as a backhanded apology and my mind flared red at “crazy”. TRIGGERED! I stopped talking to him, completely. Stifled what I wanted to say: I’M NOT CRAZY, YOU’RE JUST AN ASSHOLE!

When I got home, I saw that he’d texted me.

“I’m just trying to make peace.”

I threw it back in his face.

“No you’re not.

If you were, you’d just admit that I didn’t do anything to you.

Which I didn’t.

I liked you, and you didn’t like me back.

If you’d just admit that we’d be fine, but instead you label me ‘crazy.’

Which I’m not.”

Could I have a sent a more guilt addled string of text messages?

He said: “I’m not an asshole normally, but circumstances between us weren’t normal.”

I couldn’t let it go.

“No. I treated you, and talked to you, like a human being. And you didn’t reciprocate that courtesy. And you know it. I’m so sick of everyone trying to return to my life from this past year. I don’t want anything to do with any of you. Like, you’re only talking to me because you’re bored and you know I have a boyfriend. You don’t care about me at all… You ARE an asshole normally. You just don’t want to deal with that reality.”

Then my personal favorite, (in the style of Season 2 Snooki of Jersey Shore) I said:

“I WAS A FUCKING GOOD PERSON TO YOU!”

He said: “I didn’t reciprocate that. I treated you unfairly and that’s why I’m an asshole. To be honest, I only see you as crazy because you’d press my emotions on purpose. You knew it got to me… I really want to come to an understanding.”

Still. I couldn’t let it go.

“I don’t think there’s any understanding to come to… Whenever I came to you looking for an ‘understanding’, you talked to me like I was a piece of garbage. There’s just no space for that anymore.”

Then I waited fifteen minutes, for my “crazy” levels to fall back into equilibrium, and texted him, again, as my normal self.

“I know I’d get really angry, but that was always after I felt like I’d been so patient and understanding. Like I have a limit! I honestly did care about you, at the very least as a friend. So some of the stuff you’d say to me would blow my mind… And I know I wasn’t perfect. I know I kind of walked all over you with my moral high ground, and acted like I was perfect when—I guess—I would do some stuff on purpose to upset you.”

He said: “Thank you.”

And it was like the masks had finally come off: I did X, you did Y. Can we finally leave the alphabet behind?

We often wear the masks of black and white identities, “crazy” and “asshole”, to correct the times when we allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

This is especially true of the millennial generation.

I recently read an article that said psychologists are seeing more instances of personality disorders among millennials than any other generation. Presumed causes being, the rise of social media and having “liberal” parents.

(It’s the same old complaint of irrational entitlement in anyone ages 18 – 35:

Latchkey kids and Fruit Rollups are ruining society!

 Trace amounts of Red Dye #5 have poisoned the personalities of our young people!

 Everyone knows participation trophies lead to moral insanity!)

 It’s all bogus to me. I think millennials are just more open to the reality of mental health than the generations that preceded them. Therefore, there’s going to be more instances of personality disorders among us. We’re open to being diagnosed in the first place. (Unlike Debra from 152 BC, who’s probably just as borderline and narcissistic as the rest of us.)

Still, I think millennials struggle with interpersonal relationships. And it probably does have a lot to do with the options that the Internet and technology have granted us. Combined with the fact that, prior generations can’t empathize with the complications that coming of age with limitless information has created in our daily lives.

No one knew how to prepare us for the kinds of problems we’d face, being so goddam available to our peers and the world at large.

Therefore, it’s a particularly painful and confusing time to be a young person in general.

If you’re a millennial woman: You are living in the age of “love yourself”, yet no one told you how difficult this journey to self-acceptance would be.

There is just as much pressure to be independent and unapologetic as there is to be “liked” and validated by men.

Gender roles are changing; the whole concept of gender itself is changing. And yet, it’s still a debate whether or not you should be granted access to birth control.

The Internet has granted everyone constant access to you and your insecurities. The audacity to harass women no longer requires a level of grandeur reserved for the pathologically entitled. Now normal, everyday-type, men can say whatever they want without even having to look you in the eye:

*unsolicited dick pics*

“Can I fuck you in the ass?”

“You’d be a l0 if you lost weight.”

“Too good to say hi?”

It’s all as easy as clicking Send.

You are told: “Purge your life of toxicity!”

“Move on!”

“No one is worth stressing about!”

But you are also expected to be empathetic and diplomatic—don’t speak of anything or anyone in condemning terms: Rape and Assault are big words.

You are told women can do, and say, and be, whatever they want. And yet, a man who admits to sexually assaulting women is more qualified to be president than a woman who has dedicated her entire life to politics—just get over it.

“Do what’s best for yourself!”

It’s the recurring message on social media.

But nobody talks about how difficult it is to decide what’s best for yourself.

That being a girl means growing up having always viewed yourself through the lens of everyone else, only to be advised to un-learn that lens.

Then, on the flipside, there’s millennial men.

My ex boyfriend is sensitive, and quiet, and reserved, by nature. But our conservative community has forced him to split his personality in two. He can’t rectify his true nature against the image of machismo he’s supposed to project.

This fills him with a rage that he doesn’t know how to talk about; he resents his being hardwired for compassion, a “feminine” quality. So he treats his own heart like a problem that needs to be constantly corrected.

Whenever I hear the word “pussy” I feel myself tense up.

How do I convey the collective trauma tied to such a simple word?

The other day my friend told me that most boys don’t learn how to properly communicate until around the age of nine, whereas girls somehow “just know” their entire lives. She said it was due to the differences in how boys and girls are encouraged to play. (Female-play is focused on forming relationships and narrative, whereas male-play aims to make things explode and die.)

The two boys who shot up Columbine in 1999 are an exaggeration for how toxic masculinity has divided millennial boys into two categories: Sociopaths, and guys who are so repressed and misunderstood they just give up trying to communicate emotion altogether.

I’m being borderline right now, talking in such black and white terms.

But that’s the point!

How else do we cope in this world of contradicting messages, evolving roles, blurred lines, muddled information…

No wonder we call each other black and white names, like “asshole” and “crazy”, in the heat of an argument where we’re just trying to cope with how wrong we’ve both been.

It’s really, really, really, hard to feel whole in this polarized world. To not cling to the first diagnosis that only vaguely describes you, or somebody else—just trying to find a cure for the emptiness of your own identity juxtaposed to everyone else’s.

I would know: You can’t limit your “crazy”-self to the weekends and expect to wake up whole on Monday.

You’ve got to integrate her into your “real”-self eventually.

☁︎

I’m used to being called “crazy”. It’s a label that’s been thrown around, behind my back and to my face. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment, and sometimes it’s meant as an insult. I used to try and combat it, saying I preferred “eccentric” or “passionate”. I went the feminist route, saying: “Crazy’ is the label we give women who expose injustice and mistreatment.” Because, honestly, the label used to really offend me.

I took it as: Literally out of touch with reality; vindictive bitch; can’t own her shit; victim-complex… I had yet to understand this label as a relative one, its meaning depending solely on the perception of the person who uttered it. That it wasn’t necessarily true or untrue, but a snap-judgment. One that I could give power, by constantly combatting it, or simply let be, by choosing confidence in my own reactions and perceptions.

(It happened last week, as I was lying in the backyard. I was reading This is Water by David Foster Wallace. More specifically, a passage that went something like: “If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important—if you want to operate on your default setting—then you, like me, probably will not consider possibilities that aren’t pointless and annoying.” And the vitamin D must have gone to my head, because I heard myself thinking: I probably am crazy. Why should I be ashamed of that?)

This epiphany probably had a lot to do with something that happened a few days prior. I woke up with a hangover on Sunday morning, only to find that I’d texted my ex-boyfriend the night before, while in a vodka-induced depression:

“DON’T YOU DARE TELL PEOPLE I TREATED YOU BADLY!”

(Okay, it wasn’t in all caps. But that’s how I read it in my head.) And when I read it, I understood: This is why people call me crazy in the negative. Then, the solution: Apologize, admit it was crazy, and controlling, and inexcusable, and move on.

Maybe it was the full ownership of what I’d done and what it meant: That I am not perfect. That I forgot I’m capable of being wrong, and this reality doesn’t add or subtract from who I am—it just is… I don’t know how something so simple seemed to heal all the internal damage of my most emotionally taxing, and humiliating, year. But it did.

I thought: My “crazy”-self has always been my best teacher, why should I deny her?

(So many nights I got drunk and slipped out of my own body. Let my “crazy”-self run rampant, allowed her to do and say whatever she wanted. And when I woke up, the next day, I denied her existence: That must have been my estranged evil twin; we don’t talk anymore.)

See, the thing about my “crazy”-self is that she’s not inherently “bad”. Sure, she’s the part of me that acts according to habit and ego; who demands apologies that don’t want to be given, who searches for feeling where there isn’t any, who chooses the cup with a crack and then cries when it’s empty… She’s not inherently “bad”. She’s just misguided! Which is why she got “bad” when I stopped taking responsibility for her. My identity was split in two, and trying to find meaning in that kind of life was like trying to feel my way out of a pitch-black maze.

☁︎

I was watching Shannon Beador of The Real Housewives of Orange County, have a nervous breakdown at the slightest mention of her nemesis: fellow housewife Vicki Gunvalson. When I realized: Shannon Beador is the perfect example of what happens when self-doubt meets trauma. Ever since Vicki made those “allegations” of physical abuse against Shannon’s husband, Shannon (an already anxious person) has become even more anxious. She’s always one second away from flinging a plate at somebody’s face.

The “ramifications” of what Vicki said triggered a reality in Shannon that she can’t totally confront or forgive.

Which isn’t to say that what Vicki said was true, or okay. But to point out that, whenever someone hurts or betrays us in a way that we can’t find any rhyme or reason for—other than selfish gain—our integrity is compromised. It’s compromised because; we can’t truly forgive someone until we’ve made sense of their behavior. And if we can’t make sense of their behavior, we’re deprived of our only power: To forgive. Which ultimately makes one wonder: What’s so wrong with me that I can’t just “get over” this?

I over empathize with Shannon—in spite of all her erratic behavior—because I understand what trauma looks like. How it transforms your character into an exposed nerve ending that you’re constantly defending. You feel stripped of any power, because you’re convinced whatever you’ve experienced has used up any good you had left; you can’t remember who you were before. And, as if that weren’t confusing enough, trauma-therapy often means coming to terms with your role in the suffering that was, essentially, forced on you. You have to admit you’ve failed yourself the same way other people have failed you, which is just as frustrating and backwards as it sounds.

I’ve read Sierra DeMulder’s chapbook We Slept Here at least a dozen times now. It’s a collection of poems about overcoming trauma and abuse. And I’ve noticed that every time I read it, I understand the overall message a little better; the same way I understand myself a little better as life goes on.

There are a few lines that I only just started to understand a few weeks ago:

“Are you afraid of how
much it looks like you?
How it has
his mouth but your eyes.”

The “it” in this sample can mean anything: abusers, traumatic experiences, repressed memories, grief… The overall message is meant to point out how fear creates boundaries that might be more damaging than healing. An “Us vs. Them” paradigm where distinctions become so rigid, compassion is stopped dead in its tracks. You start thinking in black and white terms, because you just don’t want to take on the complications of blurred lines anymore; you can’t take the risk of seeing yourself in a person who hurt you.

In the throes of incomprehensible pain, this makes sense: You don’t want to identify with your abuser! (Your bully, your “enemy”, your whatever…) You want to be as far away from that dysfunction as Shannon Beador wants to be from Vicki Gunvalson. But the paradox is: These distances have a funny way of giving the people who hurt us, even more power.

Exhibit A, Shannon freaking out on Lydia McLaughlin, over the mere mention of Vicki:

“I’m NOT like Vicki Gunvalson,” Shannon says.

And I wonder: Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

We have the power to see ourselves in difficult people and experiences, which is a power—though we forget this when we’re busy combating the “enemy”, and our own mental problems. We forget, because we so often act according to fear. To our own limited experiences and nagging anxieties: But what if I’m used and devalued, again? What if I’m misunderstood and rejected? What if I’m wrong?

I told my therapist about this anxiety in myself, and he said:

“I’m going to advise you to keep letting people take advantage of you.”

Which sounded bat-shit crazy at the time!

So I didn’t listen. Instead I acted according to fear, for months. And I felt like such shit because, I was totally numb; I couldn’t regain a sense of connection with humanity, and it hollowed out an emptiness that made me feel nothing but frustration and anger. Like, I’d experienced depression before, but I’d never lost a sense of awe in everyday things. No matter how depressed I got, I’d always been able to look at a tree and regain a feeling of wonder—that something more was out there. But this “depression” was different. I couldn’t see myself on the other side, and I’d lost my faith in peoples’ ability to change.

For the first time in my life, I was jaded.

☁︎

My therapist said, “Two gifts you offer other people are friendship and affection.”

Then he added, “But gifts aren’t always appreciated.”

(At work the other day, an older man’s total came to a $1.21. He pulled out some change and said, “Oh! I got lucky today!” He handed me a $1.06, probably thinking the nickel was a quarter. He seemed excited about his “luck”. So I pretended like he’d handed me the correct change. On the way out, he turned back and said, “I don’t care, but just so you know—you shorted me a nickel.” Then he walked out the door in a huff. And I stood there, fuming; thinking of how I’d knowingly short changed myself to protect his good spirit, only to be accused of doing the opposite.)

I understood what my therapist meant: You can’t hold the door for other people and then get angry when they don’t say, “thank you”.

The lesson being: If you spend your life constantly expecting to get what you give, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

I didn’t used to be this way but, in recent years, I think I got tired of relating to so many people—got worn out from not feeling related to in return. Woe is me. I began to turn my personality inside out. I lashed out in moments where—previously—I would’ve felt more inclined to try and understand. Held grudges over situations I usually would’ve forgiven, or forgotten, immediately.

Exhausted from feeling duped by people I cared about, I drew bold boundaries between myself and everyone else.

You’re bad. I’m good.

Please step away from my circle.

But viewing life this way only made me feel more isolated, more stagnant in my emotional growth, and like “less” of a person.

I didn’t realize, when my therapist advised me to keep letting people take advantage of me, he was advising me to keep being myself.

See, for the longest time, I believed loving a narcissist made me a narcissist. That, as a kid, something must have been severely wrong with me for feeling sorry for the serial killer on death row—entertaining the idea of his innocence: What if this isn’t justice? Because, sometimes… I feel bad for Donald Trump. (The other night, I had a dream I was running down a collapsing staircase alongside a gradually shrinking Donald, who eventually became too small to save himself—so I picked him and carried him to safety.) Or how, when my family watched The Reader, I heard myself saying of the Nazi character, “But we don’t know what it was like in Nazi-Germany; how can anyone say with any certainty that they would have helped the Jewish people when we’re 73 years away from the situation?”

I thought even considering these taboo figures and ideas made me “bad”. That—when it came to narcs, and serial killers, and D.T., and Nazis, and my pity that said: How ugly and lonely is the human mind that only has enough space for itself—having a pang of compassion for the compassionless, somehow meant: I must be evil too.

I didn’t realize: Being able to consider the perspectives of inconsiderate, even outright condemnable, people, just means you are capable of understanding difficult truths; that you not only have the grace to empathize with friends, and family, and people like you, but to understand psychologies and perspectives, vastly different from your own.

Those months where I felt nothing but numb and empty, angry and afraid, I wondered—not from a place of moral judgment, but tender curiosity:

Is this how the people who hurt me feel, all the time?

☁︎

I’ve noticed that the initial response to particularly empathic and compassionate people is often one of suspicion, followed by confusion: How can this person possibly be so damn forgiving and sincere?

 Sincerity combined with idealism often looks and sounds phony. Mostly because: To love and appreciate, or forgive, anyone from a place of true sympathy, generally, isn’t the “cool” thing to do. Especially when we’re the ones on the receiving end of that sympathy: How can someone be so gullible as to pity a wretch like me?

We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine. This is why we, so often, speak of the open-minded and romantic individual as a mentally and emotionally fragile being.

In Chuck Palhniuk’s short-story collection Haunted, one story, “Exodus”, serves as a kind of allegory for everything I’ve just expressed. It’s about the depravity of objectification and how our (American) surrounding culture and society, normalizes this depravity. Making anyone who passionately opposes it seem like they’re going “crazy”.

The story focuses on a woman named Cora, who is an abuse advocate in her town’s police department. From the beginning, she is established as a deeply empathic person, described as a woman who “couldn’t buy just one stuffed animal”. Her house is a fortress of unwanted items, meant to emphasize her inability to abandon anyone, or anything; to “look away” from injustice and mind her own business in matters of neglect and abuse.

Initially, the other characters like Cora—at worst, they’re indifferent to her. She only begins to become a “problem” and subject of distrust when she upsets the status quo. The catalyst to all her controversy being when she accidentally orders two anatomically correct dolls (used for cases of sexual abuse, so children can recount what happened to them via demonstration) instead of anatomically detailed ones.

A.K.A. Cora accidently buys child sex-dolls.

She’s upset about her mistake from the get-go, apologizing to the director of her department and promising the dolls won’t be used. However, the director doesn’t see anything wrong with the situation and insists that the dolls are perfectly good replacements for the old, anatomically detailed, ones.

Soon after, Cora has a waiting list for the dolls. Detectives and officers begin reserving them for “off site” cases. However, it quickly becomes evident that the dolls are being reserved for sex. When Cora raises the issue to the director, she’s met with laughter and an alternate perspective, “Consider this tit for tat.” The director sites how women objectify men everyday, using them for sex and money—or as sperm donors. She says, “What do you think a dildo is?” She dismisses Cora’s concern over what grown men reserving child sex-dolls for masturbation might imply or mean. She doesn’t see it as cause for concern because the dolls aren’t real. She says, “If it helps, just think of each one as a seventy-pound condom.”

This is when Cora becomes increasingly eccentric. She does everything she can to protect the dolls from violation, cleaning them every time she gets them back and buying them new clothes. At one point, she decides to super glue all their orifices shut. When that doesn’t work, and the dolls come back with all the glue cut open, she inserts razors into their mouths and behinds. Still, nothing seems to combat the unacceptable behavior of her co-workers.

Her sanity finally reaches its tipping point when the director sits her down and insists that she just “get over” it. The director says, “It was a tough call… deciding if my entire team is crazy, or if you are… overreacting.” In this moment Cora realizes she is nothing but a 120-pound condom to the people around her. As a result, she loses it and steals a gun from the evidence room. She takes the dolls, loads her car up with shabby stuffed animals, and drives away with a Breather Betty riding shotgun. In the closing paragraphs it’s noted, “Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.”

The reason this story has resonated with me, for so long, is its main point: Cora is treated like she’s crazy because she’s the only character with a conscience. Rendering her a threat to everyone else’s hedonism, and a walking symbol for the unexamined lives of everyone around her. Extending back to what I mentioned earlier: We scoff at the sensitivity of others because its existence heightens an awareness in ourselves that we’re not always ready to face; makes us consider our own behavior in ways we’d rather combat than examine.

See, I’ve noticed that we like Cora-girls in theory but we don’t like them in practice. (The same way the pursuit of Justice is beautiful in theory, but a motherfucking bitch in practice.) No one ever tells you: If you’re going to lead a life guided by truth and justice, you’re going to be swallowing your pride constantly. You’re going to be forced to confront the darkness in yourself, over and over and over again. (Which I think goes against human nature on a certain level. It’s unnatural to choose discomfort, and that’s what makes truth and justice such a difficult pursuit.)

Recently I was reading an essay called “Tan Lines” by a Canadian Indian writer, Durga Chew-Bose. It’s an essay about why she’s always dreaded summer. Focusing on how she associates summer with racist rhetoric.

She writes: “Growing up brown in mostly white circles means learning from a very young age that language is inured to prejudicial glitches. Time and again, I have concealed my amazement. The semantics of ignorance are oddly extensive and impossible to foresee.”

She sites mothers at soccer practice and the pool, how they’d always comment on her skin as a child. How what they said was always intended as a compliment, but—for reasons she couldn’t place—made her uneasy. That, when she got older, her tanned white friends would place their arms beside hers and say with pride: “I’m darker than you now.” Sending a shock to her system, and hurting her in a way that she didn’t anticipate or understand.

As I read the essay, I thought of how many people would read about Chew-Bose’s experience and think she was “overreacting”. That she was looking “too far” into things—creating implications that weren’t there.

I remember wondering: Why isn’t a proclamation of pain enough to change people?

When we listen to another person’s experience with suffering or oppression, especially when what they’re saying contradicts the world as we’ve always understood it, it’s difficult to not react like: BUT WHAT ABOUT ME?! Making us skeptical and judgmental, rather than vulnerable and receptive enough to examine our past selves. To admit: I used to do and say some problematic shit. We close ourselves off when we question the validity of someone else’s reality as a means of protecting our own. And I think, at least most of the time, this isn’t necessarily done from a place of hatred, but fear. (Though fear and hatred are close relatives, and I’m not denying that.)

I guess I’m considering all this, now, because we’re living in a time of anxiety.

Right now, everyone is afraid. This divided political climate is the result of everyone feeling like something has, or will be, taken from them. And I believe that, as a white, cisgender, straight girl with no real history of persecution or exclusion, it’s my responsibility to not recede into self-doubt. To up my game in the arena of compassion and not fall victim to my own, ultimately vain, cynicism and despair. To, insanely enough, renew my faith in humanity…

Anne Frank wrote, “In spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.”

(On NPR, a few months ago, a psychologist was talking about how there’s been extensive studies on psychopathic brains, but hardly any on especially empathic ones. Which she found curious, considering everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of feeling for humanity—between too much and not enough. What psychic qualities set empaths apart?)

I can’t help but believe Anne was so far on the end of feeling for humanity that she possessed an otherworldly spirit. That she was so full of conscience she could be deemed pathologically graceful, or gracefully insane.

She’d have to be, to believe what she wrote:

In spite of everything…

I no longer interpret “crazy” as an insult.

☁︎

I keep wondering what all my favorite female characters of my adolescence have in common—Alaska, Effy, Daisy…

I know it’s not just their paper flat personas of female “irresponsibility” and destruction.

I know it’s more than that.

But the answer doesn’t occur to me until I’m re-reading Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain”, for the third time. An essay where Jamison divides fictional women (and real-life women) into two categories: Wounded and Post-Wounded. The former is characterized by self-indulgent self-pity, while the latter is defined by self-indulgent self-awareness. (Another way of saying “Basic” Bitches vs. “Cool” girls, essentially.)

I realized both groups were annoying in their predictability, in their resistance to not become each other.

And that’s when it clicked: The female characters of my adolescence occupy a third category.

They weren’t in pain, or in denial of pain, so much as they were trying to escape it.

I think of Alaska and her alcohol, and her walls of books, and her crashing car; of Effy hitting that jealous girl Katie in the head with a rock and running away; of Daisy crying over silk shirts and gunning down her husband’s mistress without looking back. How nobody knows for sure what any of it meant: Did Alaska crash her car on purpose? Did Effy mean to hit Katie? Was Daisy really driving?

The female escape artist is sick of being defined by the anatomy of her nervous system, from being measured by how much or little she feels. She’s the one girl in the story who decides: You’re going to turn me into whatever you want anyway, no matter how many times I prove I’m more complicated than this plot—might as well opt out and become the metaphor!

In the words of Taylor Swift: “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”

I realize my life has been a constant struggle between being down-to-earth and a total space case. (With my head in the clouds, and my feet on the ground—what an age-old cliché.) I’m a realistic idealist, yearning to make people aware and forget all at once. Constantly pretending what’s happening isn’t really happen, while acutely knowing: Holy shit, this is really happening. Sincerely wanting everyone to be okay—to feel special and necessary and forgiven—while also secretly wishing everyone would get what they deserve: Karma!

I realize what Taylor Swift hasn’t: There’s no being excluded from your own narrative.

Yes, often we are innocent victims.

And we are all saviors, to someone: the “nice” guy, an un-judging friend, your sweetheart…

But we are also the sadists, and “crazy” girls, and arch nemeses.

Lady Gaga said it, “There really is no difference between the victim and the bully.”

Which is to say: Everything in this world is relative and a matter of perspective.

And that’s the only thing I know for sure, a big fat truth I’ve been struggling to balance for the past two years:

Are you afraid of how much it looks like you?

 Nobody knows who the real crazy people are.

A guy who, I feel, used to torment me, always looks at me with what I now understand as sincere sadness. And I realize I see myself in everyone and everything, and it has me all twisted up inside. Giving me so much joy and depression, filling me with such pride and shame. I have a headache and a heartache… I feel equal parts pathetic and admirable for being so affected by another person…

So, as I write this essay, I ask myself: What does healing look like, in a life where the only certainty is that everything is uncertain?

And I understand: It’s taking ownership of how you see yourself in relation to the world.

That we are not mirrors for each other, so much as we are magnifying glasses.

That I’m not crazy, some people just say I am because—let’s face it—there are times where I acted poorly and needed to recognize it. (And anyway! Isn’t the idea of “crazy” Cat so funny? Like there’s this fairytale version of me running around peoples’ brains, stealing the big toes from all her ex-lovers. I forgot some perceptions really are so ridiculous.)

It’s realizing that what you hate isn’t a person, place, or thing, but your own fear.

I’ve been so afraid of rejection, and failure, and being seen for who I am without mercy, that I forgot how to be merciful with myself. Which only made me less merciful with others. And—god—none of us are anything without mercy. How did I not see? Every rejection, and failure, and misunderstanding I’ve experienced, was a chance to remember: I don’t need acceptance, or success, or permission to feel whole.

It’s choosing to not be that scared person anymore.

I chose to see myself in the people who were less than kind to me; realized that no one was all that intimidating once I considered that, maybe, they were in just as much pain as I was, if not more. That my fault was never in being compassionate, but in believing others’ cruelty had anything to do with me.

It’s writing about the kind of magnifying glass you wish to be.

I hope I leave your world in Technicolor.

giphy2

Fear and Self-Loathing on Leap Year: An Extended Look at One Millennial Girl’s (Very Real) Existential Crisis

It’s often not cool to be the one
who puts themselves out there.

 —Emma Watson

 BUT

It’s better to just admit that you are a complex being
and travel into the unknown sometimes.

—Margot Russell, “Letter to a Daughter”

I blamed it on a lot of things: My headband being too tight. The unseasonably warm weather. The fact that February 29th actually came this year. Or the other fact—I watched the Amy Winehouse documentary two days prior…At one point, I remember, someone snap chatted me, “You little Hunter S. Thompson,” and I was all grinning demon emojis about it.

See I don’t know what the hell possessed me, but I recently lost my mind and thought I was somebody else for 72 hours—like I must have been channeling Britney Spears circa 2007 because I smoked a cigarette! (Something I’ve avidly avoided because A. I’m not an edgy teenager living in the UK and B. Cancer.) But I smoked a cigarette (among other things) and it was not okay. Because, before this point in my life, I’d always been that one sensible person who said: “My mind is screwy enough without drugs, and I really don’t want to fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left. I’ll stick with vodka, thanks.”

But what did I decide to do over my birthday weekend?

Oh, you know, just fuck up the few happy chemicals I have left.

And it was serious! But it was also kind of funny. But also, really, really, serious!

So now I feel like I have to write about it because the whole thing got me obsessing over substance abuse and self-destruction, which eventually became an obsession over the concept of selfdom like—self-loathing and self-love. What does this all even mean, especially for girls? What kinds of things do we use and abuse to forget ourselves? Why do we even want to forget ourselves in the first place? And then it all became a matter of rejecting black and white thinking; of considering how American society is still very puritanical in the sense that our collective logic looks a lot like this:

This is good. This is bad. What’s a contradiction? What’s a paradox? Stop. Don’t make me think and relate too much! Let’s keep it simple by marginalizing everyone who isn’t me. See, you’re like that, and I’m like this. I don’t want to understand and I don’t have to, because: We are not the same.

Which, eventually, led me to ask myself: How should I be?

Because, after my birthday weekend, I was forced to really look at myself and reconsider the person I was becoming; the whole experience being a major wake up call, like: Okay I’m not an addict or suicidal. It’s not that bad. But, I’m not as happy as I could be, and it’s driving me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. So, why am I hurting? Why am I acting up? Why am I so inclined to self-destruct? How do I transcend all these tiny prisons I’ve made for myself? (Or the ones that society has made for me?) Maybe I hate myself more than I thought…

And that turned out to be the big realization—the lack of self-love thing—because, honestly, I’ve never really been the biggest advocate for self-love.

(There’s this anonymous quote that gets reblogged on Tumblr all the time, and I hate it. It’s: “You’re not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness.” And every time I read it I go all critical, like: Okay, maybe it doesn’t make you a bad person fundamentally. But sometimes the ways we try to kill our sadness are just outright selfish, and we should hold ourselves accountable. We should look in the mirror and say: ‘It’s not that bad. I should be better than this. How can I be better than this? How do I not take it out on other people, or myself in a way that hurts other people?’ We should think about this!!!!!)

But goddam I really must hate myself, because on my birthday I went to the ER with extreme (self-induced) anxiety and heart palpitations, and the whole time I kept reiterating to the nurse:

“I’m so, so, stupid. I promise. I’m not someone who does this! This isn’t me! I know, I look like a junkie right now, but I’m not! I finished college! I’m actually really intelligent!!!!! I’m just unhappy, this is just me being really unhappy…”

And he was an angel.

He said, “Look, most of us have been here. I should be dead after all the stuff I did in college. I know you’re not a degenerate because—nobody really is. Some people just get made to feel that way.”

Then he shot me Lorazepam.

Part I: My Birthday Weekend a.k.a. The Weekend I Thought I was Britney Spears Circa 2007 a.k.a. Rock Bottom a.k.a. Just Kidding (Sort Of)

Friday: I snorted cocaine off the corner of a credit card in a bar bathroom like some dark take on a Hilary Duff song: Why not (why not) / Take a crazy chance / Why not (why not) / Snort cocaine with friends… The guy I used to have a really gross crush on was bopping around on the other side of things; ping ponging between being outside and inside, like the indecisive maniac that he is, and his presence was wearing on me. It was making me feel like I needed to be up, so up I went. (Cue Hilary Duff: Why not?!) Later in the night he made the mistake of locking eyes with me, which, hopped up on cocaine, I went in for the kill. I walked up to him with a one-track mindset, like: MOTHERFUCKER CAN’T EVEN EVADE ME THIS TIME!

“Why don’t you like me?” I asked, but mostly demanded.

He got all fidgety, looked both ways behind his back, tried evading the question:

“You know, the girl I’m seeing now…”

I’m pretty sure I made a nasty face that was a combination of: Ew. Come on. Really?

“Don’t be like that. She’s a good girl,” he said.

“And I’m not?!” I asked, indignant and slightly distracted from my coke-addled agenda.

“Well, you are, but—I heard things. You played video games with my friend, and—”

I cut him off, “So, you don’t like me because, I played video games with your friend?”

(I couldn’t help but laugh as I asked, because: I heard that you like the bad girls, honey. Is that true?)

“That’s not it, I know you didn’t do anything…” He trailed off.

“So, then, why don’t you like me? What did you hear?”

He kept looking around the room, trying to find an out—presumably—but my focus was relentless, he was stuck and he knew it. So finally, he just admitted it,

“You put yourself out there too much.”

GOTCHA!

Cocaine said, “That’s a compliment.”

He kissed me, out of nowhere, just to blindside me, before he disappeared.

The comedown said, “It’s not your looks, it’s who you are—again.”

So—

Saturday: I said, “Give me an Adderall.”

Which was stupid!

I had a presents!

A balloon with my name on it!

What more could I possibly need?

An Adderall, apparently.

Like: Fuck me. Who do I want to be again? Oh, Up. I want to be Up, again.

So up I went.

Sunday: I forgot everything until morning. I woke up with a long red indent across my forehead from my headband being too tight, and a text message from a guy I’d been seeing that read:

That was really stupid of me.

I ignored the text, ripped off my headband and, for the first time on a Sunday morning, thought:

I’m not ready to be sober yet.

So I chugged a large coffee and watched my birthday balloon blow away as I had this horrible sinking feeling, like:

Something bad is going to happen.

Determined to outrun the feeling, I texted my friends from out of town:

The weather’s nice; I’m coming up.

On the way there, what Tony Bennett would have said to Amy Winehouse if she were still alive kept floating through my head like a weird premonition:

Slow down, you’re too important.

But I decided to dismiss it.

I got to my friends’ apartment, and we drank beer until the room got dim. Our conversation went back to high school, and my friends confessed that one of our English teachers told them they weren’t allowed to sit with me anymore because they’d “corrupt” me.

I laughed, like: Too late for fucking that.

Then my phone pinged and I got a text from the guy I was seeing that said:

I’m going out, we should meet up.

Forgetting whatever he did to make me mad the night before, I went home.

I had one drink, which turned into two, and then three…

My guy’s friend asked me about what I do.

I said, “I’m a writer.”

He asked, “Like, for money?”

“No,” I explained, “The only job I’ve interviewed for that even kind of had anything to do with writing—they told me my voice was too strong, like I’m too opinionated.”

I saw my guy nodding in the background like: Yes, you are too opinionated.

Hence, drink number four.

Later, he left me waiting outside Kwik Fill with his cigarette and a bottle of Sprite mixed with Codeine.

I got bored waiting.

I smoked his cigarette and killed half the bottle because:

Why not?

Part II: The Comedown

Monday morning, my birthday, I ran into the ER. I bolted for the security guard and, trying to appear normal and optimistic, said, “Hey, I did a lot of shit this weekend and now I’m experiencing really bad heart palpitations! I think I’m gonna die…where do I sign in?”

Dude didn’t even flinch, just grunted at a clipboard.

I signed in and sat around waiting, thinking: They’re not too hasty considering someone thinks she’s gonna die…I clung to my chair’s arm rests like the safety bar of a roller coaster. I felt like my heart was hurtling itself against my ribcage over and over. I kept waiting for it to just stop, I was so convinced it was going to just stop. Like: This is it for me. I’m that person right now. One more component to the avid drug problem: Cat Olson Dies After 72 Hour Bender…

When they finally called me in, the nurse stuck wires all over me, like, “I have to expose your left breast for this one, is that okay?”

And I practically shouted, “OBVIOUSLY!” Like: I’M DYING! STRIP ME DOWN AND HOSE ME OFF IF YOU HAVE TO! WHAT’S MODESTY EVEN? WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH EVOLUTION?! THIS IS SURVIVAL OF THE LEAST MODEST! EXPOSE ME, LIKE, FIFTEEN MINUTES AGO!!!

And he laughed. He actually fucking laughed. And right then I realized how I must have looked, all sweaty with black eyeliner all over my face, glitzy purple nail polish like a 12 year old girl, wearing a half-shirt that said: Part-time mermaid.

He was the first to ask, “Drugs?”

I said, “Okay, yes,” point-blank.

“Which ones?”

I put up a hand and started counting down the days by substance abuse, “Friday I did cocaine…Saturday I took an Adderall, and last night I drank…codeine?”

He laughed again, “So you’ve had a weekend,” and I became acutely aware of the airy way in which I admit horrible things.

“Yeeeeeeah, pretty much. And I realized this morning that I have no idea how these things react to each other, and I panicked. Soooooo…”

“Now you’re here.”

STARTED AT THE BOTTOM, NOW I’M HERE!

He stuck me with an IV and left me to wallow with a TV remote. Which wasn’t good because, as soon as he left, the panic set back in, only this time it was accompanied by extreme agitation.

I felt all wrong inside my body and I wanted to move around as if it were possible to outrun myself. All I could think about was how much I hated myself, how much I wanted to not be me. It was a weird kind of guilt, like: I don’t deserve to live after this.

I hit the buzzer.

The nurse came back and I said, “I can’t be alone right now.”

He said, “What’s up?”

My voice finally sounded as panicked as I was, “I really feel like I’m going to die, and I know you have things to do, but talking to someone is the only thing that can distract me from this horrible impending-doom-feeling right now.”

He said, “Trust me, everything about you is normal. You’re just really scared because your body is trying to sort out everything you’ve put into it. I promise, you’re not dying.”

“I really, really, don’t feel okay though, and I’m having a hard time talking myself out of it. I’m usually really good at talking myself out of panic attacks—this is different. Like I have a history of depression and anxiety, I know how to deal with those things. But I can’t talk myself out of this—”

He stopped me, “You need to get a hobby.”

“But I do have a hobby! I read and write all the time!!!!!!”

“No, listen, that’s not a hobby, that’s your job.

“No!” I said, for some reason, even more panicked, “It’s really not for me, I love it so much. I’m really passionate about it.”

He said, “I get that, but no matter how much you love it, it’s still work that keeps you in your head. What do you do just because, to relax—other than drink?”

I couldn’t answer because the anxiety was real in that moment.

I kept saying it like a crazy person, “I’m so scared, I’m so scared, I’m so scared…”

He said, “Be honest, how many times have you done cocaine?”

“Only a few times! Like I can count the times on one hand, I promise you! After this—never again!”

I knew I was starting to sound a lot like Lindsay Lohan:

I’ve only done cocaine ten to fifteen times…

And they (meaning three nurses and a psychologist), finally, gave me the Lorazepam because it was obvious I wasn’t going to calm down on my own. Then they had me psychoanalyzed by a psychologist who I swear looked just like Sigmund Freud—which totally could have been a hallucination at this point because I was starting to feel like I’d crossed some line that was putting me on the outside of reality; like I had been banished to crazy-people land. Nobody looked like they believed a word I said.

They all kept looking way too deeply into the fact that I scratched myself with a paperclip in the seventh grade, despite my defense, “I was a middle-schooler in the mid-2000’s! We all scratched ourselves with inanimate objects, or else you were bulimic!!!”

Which ultimately worked against me because it sounded an awful lot like:

Hell yeah I’d jump off a bridge if it looked interesting enough.

They asked me why I did this to myself, “Is it about a boy? Did a boy make you feel like doing this?”

“Really?” I asked, “Can’t my problems be more interesting than that?”

I’m sure they unanimously thought: Probably not.

Finally, they asked the big one, “Do you want to hurt yourself? Are you suicidal?”

I started crying.

The psychologist said, “You’re clearly upset about something.”

I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say because (not to sound too cliché):

It’s all too much and never enough.

I kept crying because I didn’t know how to say:

I love the world so much, it’s overwhelming; I wish I could swallow it like a big pill and experience it all at once.

I didn’t know how to say:

I’m angry because it’s always got to be about a boy. It’s never allowed to be a shitty choice I made for myself.

I didn’t know how to say:

I’m sad because it’s not that deep—some of us just get this really shitty feeling called disappointment and it’s tough to overcome.

So instead I croaked, “No, I don’t want to die. I’m actually very idealistic.”

The psychologist stared back at me with a straight face and it made me feel like ripping out my IV and heading for whatever constitutes as the medical hills, because:

I’m so sick of straight faces.

Because?

I’m so disappointed with myself for not knowing how to be.

☁︎

When I finally went home, my parents were looking at me like: What’s your deal?

It was 6 PM on a Monday, and I was practically sleeping in my birthday cake.

I went to bed after a few halfhearted bites of ice cream and, still woozy from Lorazepam, I read the yellow cutout letters decorating my bookshelf through half-shut eyes:

NOTHING IS A TRAGEDY AND EVERYTHING IS A JOKE

They appeared to be dancing, bobbing up and down as if they were floating in the air like water, and I remember wondering:

Why can’t everything be the way I dream it; the way I want to believe it?

Part III: One Week of Experimental Sobriety

 Day 1

At the hospital they essentially told me to be ready for a weeklong hangover—but goddam I never expected to be that paranoid. I sunk into a depression that led to an anxiety that said: You broke yourself. All your cognitive abilities are shot. You’ll never be able to comprehend a book again. You’ll never write again. You ruined it, and you deserve this.

Which, the guilt was real. At work I felt heavy bodied and kept idealizing the lives of little kids going through my line, like: Don’t do cocaine sweet baby angels, just stay at home with your sheep pillows. At one point a little boy who looked about nine said, “You have hair like Queen Elsa,” and I immediately ducked behind a wall of dish soap for an irrational sob-fest, like: If only he knew, I’m not an ice queen. I’m just a stupid cokehead!!!!

Like I really wish I could’ve controlled these moments of self-indulgence, but I really felt as if the last innocent piece of me had died. And yes, it was really melodramatic and irrational because, hello, that’s what a come down from uppers will do to you, but I couldn’t stop thinking it:

I’d do anything to go back to the before.

☁︎

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep until I’d had a very, very, focused meditation session. (Short-term cocaine abuse symptoms include: Insomnia, disturbing dreams, obstructed sleep…) Which, was all done in vain since I woke up two hours later in the worst pain. And after consulting WEB md. (a foolish impulse that always ends in herpes or cancer) I—get this—went back to the ER. And the same nurse who had been there for my nervous breakdown two days prior was taking my blood pressure.

He got to the shameful question, “Any recreational drug use?”

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, “I was here two days ago.”

He laughed and said it like I was an old friend, “Cocaine-girl!”

I looked at him like: I hate you.

Then I said, “I think I have herpes.”

He said, “You might!”

I said, “This is the worst week of my life.”

He laughed again, because apparently I’m the joke of the ER, like:

Thanks for the compassion, guys. I really appreciate the lighthearted way in which this group of medical professionals treats my substance abuse and vaginal disrupt. So respectful.

He said, “Really? The worst week of your life?”

I thought about it and understood that there were worse weeks to come, like the week one of my parents dies, which:

Do you really want me to go into a crying spell right now, asshole? Because I can. It’s basically my specialty, waterworks like you wouldn’t believe…

He quickly added, “You’re only twenty-four, you’re fine. Do you even realize the amount of actually crazy stuff I see here everyday? You’re not a coke addict—you had a panic attack that was drug related—and now you probably just have a UTI.”

I mean-mugged him all the way to the bathroom with my plastic cup, like:

YOU’LL BE SORRY WHEN I’M DEAD! OUT IN THE GUTTER! JUST LIKE FLAUBERT!

Which, I’m an asshole, because I didn’t end up having herpes, or an STD even, just like he’d said.

Lying in the hospital bed, waiting for my discharge papers, I texted my friend: “Pretty sure this is some high-power’s way of saying: ‘Hey Cat, do you want to be a cokehead with herpes? No? Didn’t think so. Cut the shit!’”

She responded: “You know I woke up in the middle of the night on your birthday, just like Miss Clevelle in that children’s book with all the little girls? I literally woke up, like, ‘Something isn’t right with Cat!’ Don’t do drugs ever again!!!

I texted back, “I might never even drink again. I’m afraid of everything now.”

Right as my other friend texted, “I hope you fucking sleep.”

And on my way out, I walked past the nurse who’d checked me in earlier.

He called after me, “Remember, you’re only 24—you’re doing okay!!”

I looked back and joke-laughed, “Haaaaaaa,” because I felt uncomfortable, like I didn’t deserve that kind of affirmation, but in retrospect, I know

I should have thanked him.

Day 2

The depression and anxiety didn’t get any better, it actually got worst. And distrusting the nurse’s claim, You’re not a coke addict, you had a panic attack that was drug-related, I Googled: Ways to manage cocaine withdrawal.

All the results were like: Basically you’re fucked for a while—but you can run, or, worst case scenario, eat some chocolate. Just don’t drink alcohol.

So I immediately dominated the treadmill, and stuffed my face with chocolate chips like Harry Potter after a dementor attack.

And still!

All I felt was anxious.

So I got depressed and sobbed as I texted my ex-boyfriend for the first time since I’d dumped him, like: Sorry I was such a piece of shit.

Then I went to work and sobbed again because a baby smiled at me and I felt unworthy.

After that, I restocked shelves and composed a mental list of all the things I’d taken for granted prior to my stint with recreational drug use:

  • Sitting still and feeling content with the lack of motion
  • Drinking caffeine without picturing a fatal heart attack
  • Not distrusting those sparse moments that felt a lot like: I’m about to be normal again!!

When my shift finally ended, I drove to 7/11 and loaded up on comfort food.

What was another side affect of cocaine abuse?

Increased Appetite.

Shit!!!!

I was stuffing my face with Hershey’s chocolate in the parking lot and listening to John Mayer’s cover of “Free Fallin’”—which isn’t even a song that I like! But the moment those first few words were uttered (She’s a good girl / Loves her Mama…) I fucking lost it and started sobbing again. I was trying to convince myself, like a crazy person: I am a good girl! I’m a fucking good-ass girl! And the second I took a breather from this disgusting display of self-pity—like honestly, what is this? Secret Life of the American Teenager?—I looked at the car parked across from me and saw a girl that I kind of know. She looked like she was crying too.

Then I remembered—it was the night of this guy’s vigil.

To summarize the details: Overdose. He was young. Mid-twenties? Went to my high school.

Hearing about his death felt weird because, even though I never knew him well, he was someone tangible. He was the first person to die that was within the realm of my seemingly indestructible, we’re-all-going-to-be-young-forever, bubble—a member of my immediate community and generation. Like, I’d see him walking around places. His posts appeared on the newsfeeds of all my social media accounts. We had mutual friends! I didn’t know him, but I knew enough to feel strange when I found out I wasn’t going to see him walking around anymore.

And no matter what way you flip it, this is a tragedy that every young person who knew him, in some capacity, must have felt—we all must have felt some uneasiness at the news. Because—I’ve seen his picture—it’s not easy to believe that death, and a really dark death at that, could touch a face that looked so open, like so much fun.

How does death touch someone who looked so easy to love?

And, seeing this girl who knew him, I understood something very important:

There are certain substances that you can’t compromise with.

I shot myself with a dose of reality:

Cocaine is a hard drug like heroin is a hard drug.

I scolded myself:

You can’t always come back from these things the same. And if you choose to do them, you have to deal with the consequences in a way that’s productive. Now stop crying to this cheesy song because you’re lucky to have found the line; you know you’re going to be okay.

And then finally, for a second, I felt like my old self again.

I quoted Sloane Crosley in my head, like the insane lit-nerd that I am:

I’m a good girl—but I do not love horses or Jesus and I’d burn America to the ground for a sliver of my former happiness.

Day 3

After a night of strange nightmares that had me thrashing around, I woke up and something felt different. First off, my brain felt less cloudy, which made me happy like, Maybe you can comprehend a book again! Then I ate a saltine cracker and it tasted like heaven, which is questionable because, it’s a saltine cracker, how good can it be?

I still felt exhausted, like there was led in all my limbs, and things were still pretty dreary on the emotional front. But I at least had a sense of gratitude again—one that I’d forgotten about.

I’ll admit, these past few months I’ve been very unhappy, and I’m wondering if, prior to my ER visit, it hadn’t really occurred to me just how unhappy I was. And with bouts of major depression, the first thing to happen before finally getting better is—laughter. I’ve read about people being majorly depressed, until one day, out of no where, some tiny thing happens and they just laugh so hard because that tiny thing reminds them:

Life on earth is very small and stupid. Why am I trying so hard?

That kind of happened to me on this day.

I was at work, and an old co-worker came in looking for Totally Awesome cleaner. I showed him where it was and I thought I heard him say, “Thanks, I need it to clean my bum.” And I froze for a second, because I was about to take what I thought I’d heard very seriously. I was about to say: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t. Until he saw the concerned look on my face and was like, “What the fuck do you think I just said?!” So I told him, and I know it’s so idiotic—like how old am I? Am I nine?—but I bent over laughing.

I actually had to clutch my sides as I got it out, I said, “I really thought you just told me you were going to douche out your asshole with Totally Awesome.”

He was looking at me like: Are you okay? Are you going to be the same after this? But being the first person to make me happy in a long time, I didn’t even care, I just asked without even thinking,

“What are you doing tonight?”

☁︎

That night I went to hang out with him and a few people. I played beer pong sober and drank a Pibb X-tra. Then a guy man-splained SCAT to me as I noted how even the way he ate Cheez-Its was cocky. I thought: He’s lucky I’m not drinking. But then, in the end, I had to be grateful for him because, when I considered having a drink, he was the only person who said, “Hey, you don’t want to. You said you didn’t.”

So thanks for looking out for me, cocky cheez-it-eating stranger. You’re the reason I looked at the snow, going all glittery beneath the streetlamps, and could see that it was even dreamier sober.

Day 4

“Does this shirt say: ‘I’m sober’ to you?”

Me and my friend were at the mall on a Friday and I was asking about a T-shirt covered in cartoon dinosaurs.

She laughed and said, “I love how you get one real birthday every four years and you chose to spend yours at the ER.”

“I know,” I said, “I hate myself; I’m getting this shirt.”

☁︎

Later that night, at the bar, my friends kept fucking with me and making Cocaine-Cat inspired variations of Selena Gomez lyrics, “All of the downs and the uppers, send Cat straight to the ER…”

There was a group of guys sitting across from us and one was ultra clean-cut with hair gelled back in a way that looked a lot like: I’m either in the army or I hate my mother. He smiled at me and said, “Let me know when you’d like another soda water.”

Eventually, he overheard me telling the bartender, “I thought I was Amy Winehouse for 72 hours…” and his face lit up.

I knew what he was about to say, I could feel it coming—

“Don’t you dare say it!”

But he said it, “I love crazy.”

I said, “You say that now, but I don’t think you really know what you’re saying.”

Because, this is a “compliment” I’ve gotten used to.

It’s one that always forces me to become conscious of the war inside my mind, like:

Do you really love it, or do you just love the idea of it?

In Chris Kraus’s experimental memoir, I Love Dick, she describes schizophrenia—the crazed queen of mental illness—as limitless empathy, no understanding of where the rest of the world ends and you begin; as feeling too much, all at once, and constantly worrying that it won’t be enough; the exact opposite of sociopathy. And having always had a deep, irrational, fear of schizophrenia, Kraus’s interpretation of the illness helped me understand why:

Because I feel a lot.

And I struggle, I admit, to find the line between me and everything else:

Is it you, or is it me? Is it the world, or is it this place? When should I think of you, and when should I think of me? When should I practice self-awareness; when should I practice self-love? When should I speak; when should I listen? Can I trust myself to know the difference?

I’ve expressed the turmoil I’ve felt over these questions to many people and I’ve often been told, “You think too much,” or, “You care too much,” or, “You need to relax,”— “You should calm down.” I’ve been told, “You’re overreacting,” and “It’s not that important.” I’ve been asked, “Why does this matter to you so much?”

And now I resent the words: Too much.

Like, I get it—you love crazy.

That is: You love it until it becomes too much.

Hence the rejection: “You put yourself out there too much.”

Yeah. Well. Fine.

But I’m going to contradict myself right now and say—

That’s you.

This is me: I don’t want to live a life that’s complacent.

Because: I’m not okay with the way the world is, and I hope someday it’s different.

To you this might be “too much.”

But, to me—

It’s passion.

Does that make me crazy?

Possibly!

Oh fucking well.

☁︎

Gelled-back hair guy was supposed to meet up with me, but he didn’t show.

So I texted him, “What happened?”

He said, “I had to go home, it was probably for the best.”

I said, “Okay, it’s cool.”

He said, “It certainly wasn’t you though.”

And for the first time, in long time, I could confidently say it,

“I know.”

Day 5

I’m weak. I had a long island.

IN MY DEFENSE: I felt better, I didn’t over-drink; earlier that night I was brave and read over the signs of chemical dependency in my ER folder (something I’d avoided doing), and everything came out negative, like: No, I do not take a coffee mug of wine with me whenever I go to Wal-Mart, and I have never resorted to spitting at someone over a miscommunication.

So I had a long island with my friend, and I told her my birthday story in depth. I got to the ER part, “They looked so deep into the fact that I scraped myself with a paper clip when I was in seventh grade—”

“That’s bullshit,” she said, “I tried sawing my wrists open with a souvenir license plate when I was thirteen, and I’m fine now.”

“That’s what I said!”

We both looked around the room like: This conversation is ridiculous.

I wondered: Why were the girls of my generation so sad? Why did we all think in terms of blood? Why were some of us bulimic and melancholy? Cutters, or dating guys too old for us?

I thought we were supposed to be past that.

Why did we all want to hurt, so bad?

Sometimes I think we felt inclined to do these tiny acts of self-destruction because we wanted to remind ourselves that we were real; because we were so bored, and our problems felt so dumb, that sawing at our wrists with souvenir license plates felt like a good idea, like: Hey, I’m here.

Or, something really fucked up, sometimes I think we did these things as a way of saying: Hey, I’m with you.

Hence: Is it about a boy?

I don’t like saying it, but sometimes self-destruction really is that co-dependent.

Amy Winehouse, allegedly, was so infatuated with her husband Blake Fielder that she wanted to feel whatever he felt. At one point she even admitted this sentiment to him flat out, “I’ll do anything you do.” And, in her case, this meant drugs, and a lot of hard drugs at that—something that really makes me question the romance behind the Nicholas Sparks concept:

If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.

Like: If you’re a bird, I’m a bird — I’ll do anything you do. — If you’re on crack, I’m on crack. — Oh shit! This whole thing just stopped being cute!

But nobody ever seems to call it what it is, and that’s: Emotional Abuse.

In the Amy Winehouse documentary (Amy) it’s constantly implied but never stated: Blake killed Amy. Or, the kind of love Blake and Amy had killed Amy. Or, Amy didn’t know it but she was confusing intensity and fear with love, and eventually it led to a number of addictions that killed her.

Nobody ever says anything along those lines. It’s just subtly implied, because nobody wants to admit that a seemingly good thing like love or devotion—romance—could potentially kill you.

But it can.

Amy said, “I fell in love with someone I would die for…and that’s a real drug, isn’t it?”

And I was like: Yes. Yes, it is.

See Sierra DeMulder’s definition of Soul Mate:

“Not the person who makes you the happiest, but the one who makes you feel the most.”

I’m almost positive Blake made Amy feel the most. And, for what it’s worth, Sierra DeMulder has admitted to experiencing a very emotionally abusive relationship.

So.

The one who makes you feel the most?

It’s basically the equivalent of saying: The one who fills you up, and then deflates you, fills you up, and then deflates you…

And being someone who is finally coming to terms with her history of emotionally abusive relationships, I was terrified by how well I understood Amy Winehouse’s decline; how easily I related to Sierra DeMulder’s poetry. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s something I’m working on, but I’ve finally started admitting to myself: I once cut myself to feel closer to a guy. I once isolated myself from all my friends, concealed my past, and turned myself into—essentially—a pet girl, for a relationship with a guy who would summarize the two years I spent trying to be whatever he wanted with, “We had some great jokes.”

And now?

I’ve done cocaine to feel closer to a guy.

I guess I get it.

Scraping myself with a paperclip was kind of fucked up.

So whenever people ask about the scars I just say, “I forgot.”

Because it’s less humiliating than the truth: I wanted to feel close to someone with deeper issues than myself.

Because it’s less invasive than screaming in people’s faces: I’M HERE AND I WANTED PROOF!

It’s hard to explain how damaging emotional abuse can be; how you come out of it having to build yourself back up again; having to re-order yourself in a way that’ll keep this whole cycle from happening, again. It’s hard to convince some people that you’ve been deeply wounded—traumatized—when you’ve got nothing to show for it. Like you can’t take out a picture of your former identity and say: Look how he rearranged it, how he confused it into oblivion…

Maybe sometimes we hurt ourselves because we want someone else to see an invisible thing that happened to us—

I don’t know.

But I hate that I’m still struggling to solve the same old riddle:

How does a girl love selflessly without being self-sacrificing to the point of self-sabotage?

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

☁︎

Later that night, I re-watched The Virgin Suicides just to pacify myself with Cecilia Lisbon’s truth:

“Obviously Doctor, you’ve never been a thirteen year old girl.”

 Day 6

My friend got me Lemonheads and took me for a drive.

He let me control the music.

I played Boxcar Racer: I wish I had power / I wish I could lead / I wish I could change the world / For you and me…

I played The Pixies: The creature in the sky / Got sucked in a hole / Now there’s a hole in the sky…

I played a remix of M83’s “Wait” by Kygo: There’s no end / There is no goodbye / Disappear / With the night / No time / No time / No time…

I looked out the window and watched the world fly by, like: Tree, Tree, Tree, Telephone Pole, UFO.

I remembered a few lines from one of my own crumby poems: “Life is not the song ‘Wait’ by M83 / You can’t hit replay / And it never hurts you the way you want it to…”

The world kept flying by: No time, no time, no time…

(Sometimes, actually all the time, I go for long drives to nowhere, in the middle of the night, by myself. And every time I do it, I never feel like going home. It’s like there’s this voice pulling at me from the back of my head, saying:

Just one more loop, you can turn at the next road; it’s not time to go home…

I’m beginning to understand that I’m like that about everything—

I was the one who kept saying, “Just one more line,” until it was 8 AM and the drugs were all gone;

I was always the last girl to fall asleep at slumber parties—

 It’s all too much, and never enough.)

I looked up and realized the night sky was making my soul feel too big for my body; all I wanted to do was punch out the passenger side window and get my knuckles all bloody.

I felt a familiar ache that made me feel like howling:

I’m a bad girl, cause’ I don’t even miss him…I’m gonna to free float out into everything, I’m gonna haunt this whole world, never leave it behind…

(This is me trying to un-write that cowboy Tom Petty’s cheesy lyrics:

If you’re a lonely cowboy, then I’m a lonely space cadet.

This is me trying to exhaust you:

Play that song one more time. Are you tired? I’m not tired. Let me run just one more mile. Get me one more drink. Stop, where are you going? Stay one more second. I’m so in love with everything. I don’t know where to place my hands—don’t you know what it’s like? To want to place your hands on everything, to want to hold on for one second longer than what’s considered polite? ‘Cause I’ve got to! I go all OCD when it comes to this. I’ve got to get this moment right…

This is me saying:

Match me; love is not enough. You’ve got to understand me.)

I felt like confessing:

“I’m afraid I’m difficult to love.”

But I couldn’t give up that information because, I think this guy would really love me if I’d let him, and every loving boyfriend I’ve ever had, I broke up with after being told I was “too idealistic” one too many times.

So I got lucky.

A running doe saved me from giving myself away.

She hopped out in front of the car, just barely escaped, and the whole time, my friend kept a straight face.

“Holy shit dude,” I said, “You almost hit that deer.”

He said, “Yeah, but I knew I wasn’t going to. And anyway, I didn’t.”

I laughed because he should’ve been the poster child for the kind of philosophy I’ve always hated:

It could’ve happened, but I knew it wouldn’t and it didn’t. Why dwell on it?

It’s a little too lethargic to be carpe diem, but it’s not quite nihilism.

So I thought of Tegan and Sara:

I’m not the hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave…

And I realized:

I want to be someone who can acknowledge the good in the light and the dark and not be afraid—not be afraid of the fact that none of us are ever perfect, or all right, or very good; to be able to turn the things I thought I knew inside out, and then this way, and that way. Until I finally understand them enough to either, let them be, or begin a life committed to changing them for the better; to keep putting myself out there and taking chances within reason

See,

I know I have this deep need for all of it, or none of it; a feral itch to make nowhere and everywhere my home; a tiny voice always advising me to run from one extreme to the other; to know and experience it all; and sometimes I take shit too far, sometimes I have to reign myself back in and remember:

Slow down, you’re too important.

This is my one life; my one mind, the only true home I’m ever going to know.

Sanity and sobriety are such fragile, underrated, things.

You can’t afford to lose your sense of reality.

You’ve got to put on a clear mind and deal with it in a way that’s brave.

This is me saying:

I’ve got to forgive myself if I want to keep going.

Like:

I know I fucked up and did cocaine for a while; I smoked a stupid cigarette; I drank Codeine like a sexist rap artist…but the world didn’t end, and I didn’t lose my mind—we didn’t hit the deer—and I can make out a sliver of truth now,

I can still be brave; I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.

Day 7

On this day, a lot of interesting conversations happened. For example: A customer coming through my line at work asked, “Why isn’t there a ring on your finger? Are all the boys afraid of you?” And I laughed a little bit; I smiled as I realized it, “Actually, yeah.” He got a good kick out of that. Probably because I said it in a way that emphasized: I just don’t care how true this conversation is. (I’ve never really dreamed in diamonds—the thought of it has always made me a little nauseous.)

Anyway, on this same day, the seventh day, the guy I’d been seeing said: “I have fun with you, but there are no feelings.” Which stung a little bit. It made me feel like—to this person who I’d been spending a decent amount of time with—I’m just a nice chair, and he likes the chair, but it’s spring cleaning, and now the nice chair is starting to take a up a little too much space. Like:

“You’re fun but, [you’re too opinionated].”

“You’re fun but, [you put yourself out there too much].”

“You’re fun but, [you’re difficult to love].”

(That’s me playing a special collection of Mad Libs called: Why Doesn’t He Like Me?)

So on the seventh day, I wondered all day: What’s wrong with me? Why doesn’t he like me? (Two trite musings that inevitably lead to a bunch of other existential bull shit believe it or not.)

I asked a close friend, “What’s wrong with me, like why do I deal with so many harsh rejections? And don’t say I’m choosing the wrong guys, that’s not an adequate response anymore.”

And he said, “I don’t know. I’ve always thought you were great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”

That was the extent of his response, which I decided was true but too abstract.

I went looking for a second opinion, and asked another friend the same question. He said, “You’re a real woman and not a lost child. Most people are lost children.”

Which was also abstract, and only semi-true because I am still, very much, a lost child (just like any other millennial, I wear cat pajamas and my mom opens my mail for me). However—I guess—my being conscious of this lost-ness, and not being at ease with it, is a type of maturity. Making me, in some ways, a “real” woman. Like I at least have some grasp on who I am and what I want, and that’s more than, from my observation, some twenty-somethings can say. I don’t think I’m going to be like Marnie from Girls, marrying some bi-polar narcissist and rationalizing an inevitable divorce away—even on the wedding day.

I don’t think I’m ever going to lose myself to another person that badly.

At least, I think this is what my friend means when he says:

“You’re a real woman and not a lost child.”

I think he’s saying:

You don’t change what you believe for anyone, not even the people you fall in love with.

Which, I’ll admit, is probably really intimidating. Because culturally—especially as little girls—we’re taught that “falling in love” is all about selflessness, and “becoming one”; about sacrificing experience and knowledge in favor of—

What?

Being “mature” or some shit.

Like: Look somebody wants me! I’ve got it all figured out! I’m an adult! A selfless adult!

Which just isn’t something I’m looking for at this point in life, so I suppose I have to be a little more understanding when guys tell me, “You’re fun, but…”

Maybe I’m just rationalizing; just trying to put a positive spin on a lot of heartache, but I’m learning to hear these kinds of rejections, not as a bad thing, but as, “You’re fun, but [you deserve to be free].” Like, it’s not that I’m difficult to love, it’s that I’m still busy becoming my own person. And I can’t blame someone for not wanting to fall on the wayside as I do that. I can’t blame someone for not complying when I say: Hey wanna get even more lost? Follow me around for a while!!!! *rainbows, butterflies, oops we’re doing cocaine!*

Which brings me to my other friend’s response, “You’re great, but it’s like you’re always searching for something.”

Because he’s right, I am always searching for something.

I’m always searching for the idealistic world I’ve created in my mind; I want to see it become a reality. But it might never become a reality, at least not in my lifetime, and that’s a sense of loss and disappointment I’m dealing with on a daily basis. Furthermore, I’m not sure how many people actually relate to this kind of sadness, so, by default, I feel very lonely; I feel very misunderstood; I feel like I’m constantly explaining myself, constantly having my views tested simply because they deviate from the way things are, or the way some people want things to continue to be.

It gets frustrating.

I get depressed.

I start getting impulsive.

I make bad decisions to forget.

But: I’m trying.

I’m trying, so hard, to lead a life that says: I want better quality of life for all women.

And if I were to self-destruct, to totally self-annihilate, because I can’t get past some guy’s rejection of me due to a subconscious intimidation linked to sexism; because I can’t get past a sociopathic professor’s agenda to bully me into silence (to quit writing), and some people doubting my perception of this experience due to my gender and politics, then it would be an insult to all the women who went crazy and died because they lived during a time where their only options were to either comply, or self-destruct; when women’s desires and opinions really were 100% illegitimate, and completely repressed.

(Sylvia Plath killed herself to be taken seriously. So did Virginia Woolf.)

This is what I mean when I say:

I don’t have to be anything I don’t want to be.

I’ll take all the luck I can get, and right now my luck is this:

I am living during a time, and in country, where I don’t have to comply or self-destruct in order to be heard.

I have the power to transcend all these tiny prisons and become bigger than my circumstances.

This is the part where I start to believe in the significance of that gooey concept called:

Self-love.

This is the part where I regurgitate a self-love quote I found on the Internet:

“Stay away from people who make you feel like you’re difficult to love.”

Now I’m going to take a piece of negative criticism and turn it into a poem about self-awareness:

All the people who love you are beyond you.

They’re already out there.

Go there.

Part IV: Epilogue?
“You’re so free.” — “What does that even mean?”

This random forty-something-year-old man was giving me unsolicited advice at Applebees. He said, “Baby, cocaine’s bad for your soul.” And I was just like, “Yeah, duh, trust me. I know.” Then he bought me a plate of chicken wings and I bitched and laughed about my life. Eventually he said, “Don’t do cocaine anymore, you’re too free-spirited to sabotage yourself like that.” And I joked, “Or I’m just blonde and 24 and you’re forty, creep.” And he said, “Whatever, you’re still different. You’re smart, but you seem so free.”

Which: What does that even mean?

People say stuff like this to me a lot: “Cat’s a free bitch.” — “You’re the baddest.” — “You deserve to be free.” — “~Wild n’ Free~”

I’m learning to define what all this means within my own terms. And I’m slowly realizing that, to be “free”, and a girl, doesn’t mean you’re not afraid to dye your hair blue, or that you wear a lot of black and don’t give a shit when your mascara goes all over the place. It doesn’t mean you do tons of drugs and self-sabotage in the name of “rebellion”—that shit’s irrelevant to bad-assery, totally frivolous and temporary. It’s just teenage angst seeping into adulthood and distracting you from becoming whoever the hell you’re supposed to become. (Or, even worse, rendering the person you’re supposed to become impossible.)

Therefore, to be “free” and a girl means not falling into the same old traps. It means refusing to accept someone else’s watered down versions of you—mad girl, sad girl, good girl, bad girl—and defining who you are, for yourself.

It means forgiving yourself for being a complicated person with three dimensions.

Like—

You still exist when no one is looking!

You are not a ghost of yourself!

This is your only shot, and it’s real!

Don’t fuck yourself over; don’t let someone else bully you into fucking yourself over.

And, yes, in a sad paradoxical twist, being “free” as I’ve defined it means life is going to be more difficult for you; it means that, sometimes, not very many people are going to like you, or understand you. But you’ve got to push past that because—you deserve to be fulfilled. You deserve to look back on your life and know that you did everything you could to achieve the best quality of life imaginable.

We all do.

And if there’s any piece of wisdom I’ve gained from the brief moment in time where I forgot myself, and lost control of my life, it’s this:

I decide.

I decide whether or not to treat my own worth like a thing.

I decide what criticism I internalize.

I decide to move on from anyone who makes me feel like I’m not real.

And I’m going to be okay if okay’s what I want to be, because—

I’ve decided.

It’s Miserable and Magical: Our Twenties are Too Short to Hate Taylor Swift and Female Friendship (or Anything for that Matter)

“The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

 —Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Do you ever feel like certain people just sit around brainstorming new and interesting ways to break your heart? Because…

Same.

Okay, now that that’s out of my system: I’ve been listening to a lot of old school T-Swift lately, like, “Long Live” and “Dear John” and “Mean”. And I can’t lie, there’s something about every album prior to Red and 1989 that’s really endearing. Like, every track on Speak Now has this undertone that sounds a lot like: Na-na na-na boo boo. Just. I love how Taylor Swift seemed to have this quiet joke with herself, how I get this secret satisfaction whenever I listen to her play the banjo and sing: Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean. It’s like she totally knew she was going to be on the cover of Time magazine one day—becoming the Yin to Lorde’s Yang, learning the definition of feminism from Lena Dunham, telling Apple how to write contracts, blowing shit up with super models…Just, girl knew what she was doing.

I imagine her being 20 when she first started saying it to herself: Fuck it. I don’t care whether or not you think I’m talented. I don’t care if you think I’m corny, or petty, or dumb. At least I say what I mean, and there are girls in the world who need that. So fuck it. I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for the ones who get it. Until finally, at age 26, she was saying it out loud to Chuck Klosterman, for GQ, “If you don’t get the joke, you don’t deserve to get the joke.”

I love her because there’s something about her spirit that’s totally indestructible and still, she’s sincere. I mean, I know she’s not perfect, or some kind of god, but I have a hard time believing a total bitch wrote the line, “your string of lights are still bright to me”, about Kanye West, and that’s that…

Anyway, I’m writing this because it’s been a rough couple of months and the number of times “Shake It Off” has stopped a crying spell dead in it’s tracks is an infinite one. And that kind of makes me want to write Taylor Swift a letter—that she’ll probably never read—expressing my insane gratitude like: Thank you for being a person. Because, driving around, listening to “Mean”, and just thinking, thinking, thinking…God. Just, so much has happened recently that has made me feel insane and kind of desperate, like I’m walking around with a limp, like everyone can see straight to the heart of all my weaknesses. And just, driving around, listening to Taylor Swift, it dawned on me: This past month I’ve felt invaded and used and a little broken, but the one thing I haven’t felt is lonely.

And the moment that clicked for me, I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t even be sad. All I felt was grateful, just, this relentless appreciation for all the people who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life, like: Thank you. Thank you so much for being a person.

☁︎

“Guys, I just, really need to know that tomorrow is going to happen. Just tell me tomorrow is going to be a thing that happens to us all…” I’m clinging to the sofa, ripped out of my mind (sorry mom, sorry dad) and in the midst of an existential crisis—that I will later learn only lasted ten minutes and not ten hours—because, I’m an idiot who ate two squares of weed-chocolate that my friend brought back from Colorado. Like: Oh. Okay. I smoke weed, never. Guess I’ll stuff my face with it. Completely disregard all the times it’s convinced me that I’m a sociopath whose life is one giant rationalization. Forget all the times it’s made me worry about maybe wanting to stab my friends to death. It’ll be fine. Ttyl, Logic…

Reader, it was not fine.

What happened was not fine at all because what happened was my personality got turned inside out and I became the world’s most extrovert-iest extrovert. My every thought and anxiety was out in the open, totally against my will. Like, my mental system of checks and balances was all impaired, so I never got the private memo: Hey, maybe you shouldn’t admit that you’re worried about murdering these people that you love right now. Maybe you’re just kind of paranoid and need to keep that thought to yourself, save it for never…

“Just tell me that tomorrow is real and I’m not going to wake up with you guys’ blood on my hands.”

Of course, neither of my guy friends could stop laughing because they are both levelheaded people who don’t turn schizophrenic the moment marijuana hits their systems. However, they contained themselves long enough to give those affirmations that friends are supposed to give in moments of choco-pot meltdown:

“Cat, you’re fine. This is real, we’re real, tomorrow’s a thing…” one says, as the other adds, “You’re not about to be the first person to die from weed, and I’m pretty sure I could restrain you very easily if I had to. So. There’s no way you’re going to kill us.”

“I know, I’m just, I’m in a very dark place right now,” I say, as I slump sideways and tell myself lies that make me feel better, like: You’re not in hell.

“Edibles can be a hallucinatory experience,” chimes in the anonymous know-it-all who, earlier, I banished to outer space by deeming him: “Blue-Planet.” My explanation for the title being, “Because all the blue planets are far away, and that’s what I need you to be.” (See, I don’t know if it was because I was high or what, but he spoke in this aggressive tone of voice that sounded like an assault on my personal space. Every time he opened his mouth all I heard was: I think I know everything or I take myself very seriously, and I was not having it.)

The moment he speaks I sit up to shun him once more, “Blue-Planet.” (Mature, I know. But, like I said, my personality was inside out.)

My need to say every little thing that pops into my head is getting so bad that, eventually, I just start typing my every thought into the notepad on my iPhone: You don’t have to make everything you’re thinking right now show up on your mouth, like, what the fuck, stop. Stop looking like the Grinch when he decides to steal Christmas. Wow. Maybe you’re dumber than you thought, Catherine—yes; high-me calls me by my full name—but that’s okay, you’re still funny. Wow. Listen to you, rationalizing. You are a fucking crazy person. Calm yourself. Calllllllllllm yourself. Is this hell? Is this forever? Hell to me would be like that story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, with all the phallic symbols…I wonder what it’s like to live in a world where you look at people and all you see is something ugly…

I throw down my phone and start to express this sentiment out loud, “Guys, in my world…

“Here we go,” says my friend, biting down on his fist to keep from laughing.

“Like, everyone is beautiful, I mean, maybe not in the conventional sense but…I’m just wondering…do you think everyone who’s kind of nasty and cold and ultra critical without thinking—do you think those people just look at everyone and only see something ugly? Like everyone looks human to me at the very least, I feel bad for everyone…what’s it like to—”

“Cat, get the fuck out of here with your hippy-dippy bullshit.”

And like, for real though, this is why I hate pot: I become every cliché in the book, talking about planets, making myself the center of the galaxy, saying things like: God, I just love humanity.

We laugh and I roll back onto my side and close my eyes because—not to be anymore cliché than I already am—I feel like the room is melting, or, I’m convinced I’m on some kind of downward elevator tour, if that’s a thing, watching all my contradictions slide up past me, if that even makes sense. Thinking: Being this introverted makes me feel like I’m always sinking inside myself…I want to love but I don’t always love the best that I can. Just, everything in this world feels too connected for me—are other people actually comforted by their cellphones, and wifi signals, and Facebook pages? It all just makes me anxious; making a fucking phone call makes me anxious. And more than anything, I don’t like the idea of being known. I like corners, and personas, and—I think I’m terrified of being fully known and understood…maybe that’s why I gravitate toward people who are even more difficult to know and understand…

I sit back up and Blue-Planet asks,

“Did you expand your mind?”

I laugh because: How fucking predictable.

“No,” I say, my head spinning.

“You mean, you actually compressed?

“Yes. No. Leave me alone. I’m not doing this with you, Blue-Planet,” I say, as I lie back down again because: I’m not ready to deal with that know-it-all just yet. Even though he got to me, even though, now, I’m thinking: Ugh, fine. I’ll “expand”.

I think: God, I need to get better about letting things go. I need to understand that, in a lot of ways, I’m someone who is very much in love with the unknown and aloneness and, for this reason, my life is always going to be kind of sad—but not bad. It’s not bad. It’s never as bad as I think. Most of the time, the silver linings are real and so, it’s okay. Who I am is okay, and I should spend more time validating things outside of myself, and less time searching for validation inside myself…I can be an egomaniac. I want to be less of an egomaniac. Maybe all the rejection I deal with is less about me, and more about everything else and the way things are supposed to be; maybe I need to start looking at all the ones who understand…

I sit back up. Blue-Planet and a girl with a Bo-Peep voice are in an earnest conversation about tax policies, and “Fuck Donald Trump”, and I’m thinking: HOW ARE YOU BOTH SO NORMAL?! Right before I look beside me, at my friend, like: Shoot me. He looks back with a knowing smirk as he nods his head at Blue-Planet and the girl—they’re sitting directly across from us, mirroring us—before he says,

“Two complete opposite worlds are playing out right now.”

And I smile at him with all my teeth because he just read my fucking mind.

☁︎

I’m a really intense person, and I know that. I mean, in general, I’m pretty easygoing. But when it comes to my attachments to other people, and my will to get to know them, I’m really intense. And I understand that some people don’t understand this level of feeling, and for this reason they don’t accept me. I also understand that these people have every right to neither understand, nor accept me. Not everyone is for everyone, and that might be a jagged pill to swallow, but it’s reality. Like, the world is not here to accommodate anyone, and if I were to interpret this reality as: The world must hate me, then that’s a faulty outlook, and maybe I need to start sucking it the fuck up and start looking around at all the things left to love. Like, I just feel like we all get so caught up in getting attention, that we forget how to actually pay attention. And, ultimately, the former makes for a really unfulfilling life, while the latter means actually being present and appreciating our experiences for what they are.

I want to be someone who always does the latter, but I’ve been caught up in the former many, many, times. Because—it’s hard to be appreciative of a bad experience, to find the good in something that seems like a monumental waste of time. It’s hard to not be like: I know I learned a lot about the world and myself, but I really wish this had never fucking happened. It’s hard not to be bitter, like: What I wanted didn’t happen; the world didn’t pay attention to me like I imagined it would. And, confessedly, this mode of thinking has turned me into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch, more times than I can remember.

More specifically: When I feel very attached to a person who either has no desire to, or doesn’t have the ability to, match my intense feelings—I turn into a selfish, unappreciative, bitch.

For example, let’s get allegorical: A guy who I was seeing briefly, who I was 100% infatuated with, was teaching me how to long board. He held my hand and told me where to place my feet, he told me how to lean as a means of steering, and the moment I got the gist, I pounded the pavement and let go of his hand. I had the whole technique down for a few minutes, before I got nervous and hopped off.

I remember the first thing he said as he came running after me, “I didn’t expect you to go that fast on the first try.” And I remember feeling kind of pissed about it, like: What did you expect?! Me to keep holding your hand? To just hang around, leaning on you, pretending like I wanted to learn less than I did?

The night him and I stopped seeing each other for good, he said, “It’s impossible to not like you,” and I remember it ringing in my head like an insult, for months, because: Then why don’t you?

That weekend my mom found me all leaky-eyed in my room, furiously coloring in pictures of fish until they looked like fire. And knowing about my current heartbreak she said, “I want you to know something—you’re special, something about you has always been different, and sometimes—these guys—they just don’t want to be with someone who overshadows them; you have a very complicated personality…that’s hard for some people to accept, and you have to let it go. You have to remember how many people love you.”

And instead of appreciating the magnitude of what she’d said, instead of appreciating that I have a mother who contemplates the state of my heart enough to form judgments and conclusions about it, I felt bitter and angry for a long time. I kept wondering: Why? Why didn’t this one person want me? I ignored the most important thing:

Remember how many people love you.

☁︎

“Our minds are like Velcro to the bad things that get said to us,” is what a therapist said for three consecutive weeks before I stopped showing up. Every time she said it, I thought: Yeah, I know that. That’s not the point. Because, I was foolish enough to believe, at the time, I had a mind like Velcro to only the good things. And now, only in recent weeks, have I realized, I don’t; I don’t have a mind like Velcro to only the good things.

I realized this in its entirety, this weekend, when Satan (hyperbole, okay, relax) showed up in a backwards hat and tried to steal one of my best friends from me—like I said earlier: New and interesting ways to break a girl’s heart? Go for her friends! It felt like it took forever, but when I finally pried my friend away from him she said, “Cat, he says you’re jealous of me,” and the moment I heard that, I stopped listening, I said, “Really, I don’t care,” but she kept talking, “Actually, he said something kind of nice about you…”

But before she could finish, I booked it down the road because: I’m tired of knowing about him, and I’ve mastered the art of flight, I’m like, the best ever; I can literally run away from my problems. She kept calling my name, and I did not look back, because when I’m done, I’m done. He says you’re jealous of me: it was enough of a bad-thing to trump anything good, it was bad enough to stick to my mind like Velcro, because: No I’m fucking not…

Eventually, one of my guy-friends found me hiding in my car where I cried off my eyelashes and listed every bad thing I ever suspected someone had said about me, “I know, I’m probably actually crazy, and not the hot-kind, but the real-kind,” I sniffled, “And I can be obsessive, and I look into everything too much, to a point that’s paralyzing and kind of icky; annoying. But, really, I really love people, and I feel disappointed by the ones I choose to love, so often, because I don’t think I fake anything with them, or at least, I really hope not,” I sniffled again, “And then shit like this happens, and it’s like: What the fuck is wrong with me? I mean, I know I’m too sensitive, but it’s hard not to be when nine times out of ten, you feel taken advantage of. No one seems trustworthy, and still, I’m throwing that shit around all the time.”

He plucked my fallen eyelash from my cheek and flicked it out the car window before he said, “Cat, that’s what makes you so precious—in like, a rare way, not a condescending way.”

Then he said, “A lot of people are really fucking selfish, and I’m sure you’re selfish too, but, you’re one of the only people I know who makes any conscious effort not to be. Like, even when we were teenagers—I remember—you were never cruel in the immature and calculated ways a lot of us could be. I hope you know that.”

And when someone tells you something that validating about yourself, you hold onto it, you stop crying, you shut up about your petty problems, and you listen to “Shake It Off”.

☁︎

I think the times when I’ve felt driven to change some fundamental part of who I am were always when I felt so lonely that I had no choice other than to start asking myself: Why? Like, if I ever felt isolated from a group, or person, I’d eventually have no choice other than to start saying to myself: I’m not perfect. I can be an asshole just like anyone else. What have I done that might’ve made this happen? And, I think the most dramatic change I’ve ever made in myself was un-learning the preconceived notion that other women are threats to my individuality.

See, it pains me to admit this, but I used to be one of those assholes who said things like: “I like guys better than girls because girls are catty and jealous; they’re mean.”

Reader, I want you to understand something very important, statements like these always translate as: I hate myself for being a girl. Truly. That’s what it means, and that’s what I meant whenever I said it. And yes: the conception that girls are fucking catty and ruthless in the name of jealousy, or because of careless, uneducated, assumptions, has a world of truth to it. I know. I’ve experienced it. I think every girl, at one point or another, has experienced it. But that’s no excuse. That’s no excuse to be mean and unsympathetic to, or blindly judgmental of, other women—especially when you don’t know those other women on a personal level. It’s no excuse to make self-righteous generalizations that separate you from your gender, because like it or not, at the end of the day: You are a girl. And you probably have a lot of the same experiences as other girls. And you probably feel a little weird, and like something isn’t quite right, about some of those experiences—just. like. other. girls. And, honestly, it sucks to navigate this sexist world alone, so get off your high horse. The idea that this exception to the rule—that the “cool-happy-go-lucky-will-eat-dirt-for-the-guys” girl—exists is a myth, and you’re just as oppressed as the rest of us: Now, sit with us.

And I swear, the moment I understood this, the moment I made a conscious effort to understand my gender on a collective level: I was never as lonely as I used to be, ever again. I was open and not guarded with other girls. Female friendships happened like magic because: I finally understood what it meant to be a good friend to other women.

So, a word of advice: Always sacrifice male-attention for a friend’s emotions, always, always, always…

Because there has never been a time when I prioritized male-attention over a friend’s emotions that didn’t leave me lonely.

☁︎

So this really funny thing happened, where me and that friend—the one I ran away from—didn’t end up getting mad at each other. We actually wound up laughing because: the guy she used to like decided to be into me for a minute, and the guy I used to like decided to be into her for a minute, and we both wound up kind of betraying each other by mistake. Like: Whoops—that was stupid—sorry, girl.

The whole thing resulted in a conversation that went like this:

Her: I’m so sorry, I really thought I was doing you a solid by talking to him, and honestly—I can turn into the biggest asshole when I drink—I’m so, so, sorry. I know you’re really sensitive, and you have every right to feel hurt anyway. It’s unhealthy for you to know anything about him at this point; I shouldn’t of done that. Why did I do that?

Me: I’m so sorry, honestly, I just wasn’t thinking. I can be really oblivious to guys and their intentions, and I just, I really didn’t think—because you and I are friends—he would ever even consider pursuing something with me in a thousand years. I’m just stupid, because it was super obvious, and the whole time I was just thinking: Oh look, a new friend! I’m sorry; I don’t know why I didn’t realize what was happening.

Basically, we said “sorry” and “honestly” a shit ton, and then we both rejected those guys out-right in favor of laughing with each other because: Really, they believe our friendship is that fragile and frivolous?

☁︎

In Taylor Swift’s interview with GQ she said, “I honestly think my lack of female friendships in high school and middle school is why my female friendships are so important now…because I always wanted them.” And I remember thinking in response: Saaaaaame, girl. Just, I’m at this point in my life where I finally have the female friendships that I always dreamed of; female friends who say things like I love you, and I’m sorry, and are sincere.

Truly.

My. friends. are. so. special.

Mystical enchantresses of everything.

They all show me things about the world and myself that I know I would never be able to recognize on my own; they’re all better than me—emotionally generous in a way that I can never appreciate enough. You see, they protect my heart as if it were their own, and even more importantly, they tell me when I’m being an unappreciative bitch—they force me to have fun, even when it seems like everything’s falling apart.

Like, it’s just true: being a girl in her twenties feels exactly like the song “22”: Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time / It’s miserable and magical… And when I was 22, and still naïve to just how cruel some guys can be, I remember, one night Emily A.—who hardly knew me at the time—saw tears welling up in my eyes (I cry a lot, in case you haven’t noticed) and she immediately snapped at me, “STOP IT,” the verbal equivalent to a slap in the face, “YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW! I’M NOT DOING THAT WITH YOU TONIGHT! HE’S A PUSSY BITCH AND YOU’RE THE HOTTEST EVER! YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK THE OTHER WAY AND SMILE LIKE YOU’RE HAVING FUN BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND EVERYBODY LOVES YOU!”

Then she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me into a taxi full of dudes who were impressed by my Sriracha to grilled cheese ratio and didn’t bother me when I fell asleep on their wet-dog and spaghetti scented couch. That night, I dreamt I was best friends with Lumpy Space Princess, until morning, when Emily woke me up by strumming on a guitar and singing, “WHOSE PANTS ARE THESE?” in a French accent. We both laughed so hard I couldn’t be sad anymore. And that’s just it—if there’s one thing Emily A. has taught me, it’s the art of not caring.

And then there’s Keri…

I am convinced that Keri singlehandedly kept me alive when I was 19, the year I was the most depressed and anxious I’ve ever been. She took aimless walks with me at three in the morning, she got me hot n’ spicies during a tornado warning, she watched me cry into a plate of eggs over absolutely nothing. And, for a time, she was the only person who made me genuinely happy, because, with her, nothing was ever boring—she was always ready to go, go go…to go stargazing, to smoke hookah after hours in a T-shirt shop, to walk on ice, to kick vodka bottles into the woods and scream, “I WANT TO BELIEVE!!!!!” after a weird green light appeared in the sky…

And, yes, we’ve gotten into ruthless fights before, fights like Marnie and Hannah from Girls. The kinds of fights where we both totally wanted to scream at each other, back and forth, “You’re the wound!” — “No, you’re the wound!” *chucks tooth brush* — *slams door* Until, finally, we’d get so envious of each other that we’d have to set each other free, because that’s the rule: If you love something… And then all the time we’d spend apart, we’d spend idealizing each other, until finally we wouldn’t be able to take it anymore, until finally someone would wind up saying: I’m sorry, I love you. And the other would respond: I’m so glad you said that…

Keri has taught me that it’s okay to be both happy and depressed; she’s taught me that it’s okay to be complicated, and to not apologize for it; to be a walking contradiction with no defined edges. She’s taught me how to say no to people who aren’t good for me, to say no to people who are only an insult to the strange and neurotic person that I am. And I love her, I love her for sharing a unique sadness with me, a sadness that left us laughing in her bed after a long night out, taking turns reciting Lorde lyrics in a vain attempt to cure our hangovers: You’re the only friend I need — Sharing beds like little kids — We’ll laugh until our ribs get tough — But that will never be enough…

Or there’s Emily B., who I woke up next to on a twin bed between a kitten and a Hot Wheels track, and when I looked over she was staring at the ceiling, musing about the latest dickhead, “Pretty sure he was conceived anally…” I buried my face into the pillow because, “REALLY THAT’S YOUR FIRST THOUGHT IN THE MORNING?!” and we laughed for ten minutes straight. We laughed down the hallway because, Why is there a toilet in the hallway? And we kept laughing through the doorway because, Why do I feel like we’re in an insane asylum? We laughed as we opened our eyes to a street that was too bright, and we giggled as I put the key into the ignition and said it once more, “Conceived anally. What the fuck is wrong with you?” Then we listened to “New Romantics” the whole way home and sang along to every word because we get it, we are the new romantics, we’re free and that’s what the best people in life are: The best people in life are free, goddammit. It’s so true! Emily B. has taught me to love recklessly in spite of being recklessly rejected, to wake up everyday and replace heartache with a punch line like: “Tell him you changed your number back to 1-800-YOU WISH…”

And Rachel, Rachel who I do basic bitch shit with, like going to Fredonia and realizing how jaded by life we are, because: QUAD NIGHT IS MAGICAL! *takes four shots of fireball* Rachel, who for Christmas, I gave one of those annoying home décor signs that says something cheesy like: Best friends are like stars…except, the one I gave her said something a little more applicable, it said: A good friend knows all your stories, but a best friend helps you write them. I swear, the moment I saw it I knew it belonged to her, because ever since we awkwardly got coffee together: This feels like a date. — I know, right? — How do girls make friends without being weird? — There should be an app for girl gangs, she has been present in all my essays, some smart thing she said always being the turning point…

Our conversations are the kind that last so long my mouth goes dry, and every time I walk away from her, I walk away enlightened. There’s so much I never would have realized without her, but I think the number one thing she’s taught me is this:

It’s not all in your head. I feel it, too.

☁︎

I have the line: You will never know why, tattooed on my rib. It’s from a Deerhunter song that’s all about letting go, which, I know, it’s ironic that I got a tattoo about letting go—

What hangs on longer than a tattoo?

Not a whole lot.

I know.

But, regardless, I got it because I want to remember to embrace what I can’t change, and what I don’t understand; to accept that not everyone will come with an explanation for why they are the way they are, and that’s okay. They don’t owe me that; the world doesn’t owe me that…

Getting to know someone is a gift; someone letting you into his or her life is a gift. And sometimes, you don’t get it from the people you want, or you don’t get to keep it, and more often than not, you never find out why, which is painful.

It always is.

I’ve always believed that: I want to know you, is the most vulnerable and romantic thing you can say to anyone, so, it’s painful when that desire isn’t matched. It’s painful when your OPEN sign’s flashing and someone chooses to walk right past you like: Nah, that place just isn’t for me. It’s painful, and it’s sad, but eventually—

You’ve got to let it go and remember how many people love you; you’ve got to remember how many people walk into your life and do more than just visit; you have to remember the ones who stay.

And my female friends (and some of the guy ones, too) are the ones who stay. They are the ones who accept me, even when I’m depressed, and angry, and eyebrow-less. They are the ones who haven’t shied away from being a part of my life because; they love me for what makes me foolish. They love me because my life is one vicious cycle of heartache and laughter, of kissing strangers and crying my eyelashes off. They love me for the ways that I love because it’s similar to all the ways that they love—recklessly and stupidly and hilariously…

They are the ones who keep my spirit indestructible; all the reasons I look like a love-struck emoji in pictures.

They are the ones who remind me, constantly: Never settle, unless you meet someone who walks in the room and knocks you the fuck out.

They’re the ones who, when I arrive morose and tired from the latest rejection, slap me in the face with the reality of what I deserve and don’t deserve, and then, all at once, make me laugh.

Just,

being close to them makes me remember who I am,

and when I look at them,

I don’t know how to feel anything but grateful,

like:

Thank you; thank you so much for never making me pretend to be less than I am.

IMG_5693 (1)

Come Over, I’m Dreaming: My New Year’s Resolution is to Never Stop Looking for Meaning Even Though I’m Always Depressed and kind of Mad

So all the cups got broke
Shards beneath our feet
But it wasn’t my fault.
And everyone’s competing
For a love they won’t receive
‘Cause what this palace wants
Is release

—Lorde, “Team”

12/31/2015: I keep forgetting about the approaching New Year. At work, customers keep saying it, “Happy New Year!” and every time I regard the polite gesture like a slap in the face. I say, “Wait, what?” instead of the only appropriate response, “You too!”

Just, what even happened in 2015?! Who am I?! Where have the days gone?! I feel like I just woke up from a year long bender, like, the only evidence of 2015 is the crusty sleep sticking to the corners of my eyes as I roll over and interrogate, “Where am I? Who are you? What happened?!?”

I’ve just been so indifferent. I feel nothing about the New Year except: I want to drink.

See, for me, a nice dull state of depression has set in like the weird humid fog that has embraced Western New York in a semi-warm temperature that isn’t characteristic of the holiday season. Like, I think I’ve given up on feelings the same way the climate has given up on winter…

This is nothing new though. I have a habit of mentally checking out for weeks at time. I’ve been this way ever since the first grade when all my teachers told my parents I was mentally challenged because I spaced out a lot and never spoke to anyone. Obviously, however, I was not mentally challenged. I was just bored. You know. I was busy—busy dreaming of a world where people didn’t just assume I was mentally challenged…

Anyway, that’s how December has felt: like a sad dream birthed from dissatisfaction and boredom. Sleeping has become a highlight and avoiding everyone is an effortless pursuit. All I’ve wanted to do these past few weeks is stare into the fridge and eat nothing, read essays by up and coming angry white dudes, day dream at my job that I’m way overqualified for, and drive my car around listening to Lorde’s album on repeat as I feel nostalgic for shit that’s never even happened.

God.

I am so fucking bored—I feel in want of nothing. Nothing pains me; nothing excites me…I just want to be alone and detached, to float past anger and disappointment as if none of these things were ever mine at all…

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! *kazoo!*

So, this morning—New Years Eve—when I woke up from a dream about hiding from an angry mob in a snow castle with a has-been pro hockey player named Chester, I thought: Maybe I should try interpreting this dream, or doing something, anything, remotely out of the ordinary. So I Googled—because I have the journalistic skills of a monkey—“dreams about snow”. And the first explanation I got was, “snow means you are feeling indifferent, alone, and neglected” to which I thought: Okay, no shit. Then I searched an online dream dictionary for “castle” and read, “this dream indicates your desire to escape from life’s daily problems…to live in a castle represents your extreme need for security and protection to the point where you may be isolating yourself from others.” And the gullible part of me that reads horoscopes and takes every word to heart was like: Truuuuuuue. Until, finally, I looked up “hockey” and got a simple interpretation, “hockey is analogous to how you are achieving and protecting your goals. It also suggests that you may have dealt with a lot of hard blows in your life.” After which I deflected: Damn, poor Chester.

Final analysis: I should probably stop hiding in the metaphorical snow castles of my subconscious—this weird state of indifference—and actually start pursuing the next chapter of my life because, you know, years fly by and one day you wake up and shit—you’re a has-been like Chester, or, even worse, you’re MARRIED to fucking Chester. So, armed with this analysis, I started to actually contemplate 2015. I started recounting everything that happened, in retrospect: What happened at the beginning, and what happened at the end? How do I feel about it? What do I want? What does the future hold? Do I have any control? Then I began to form, for the first time ever, a resolution that I think I’ll actually be able to keep.

☁︎

2015 started like this: The ball dropped and, with no one to kiss, Emily and I hugged like the world was ending. For that second, 2015 was beautiful—Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, goddamit!—but then some onlooker, a guy, said, “MAKE OUT WITH EACH OTHER!” and the moment was ruined. Welcome back to reality, ladies. It’s 2015, and you’re still in this slimy bar with these slimy dudes. *one more time, kazooooooo!*

The night that followed involved me accidentally shooting whiskey out my nose and offending a guy because I told him that he had a “body like a cactus.” Who am I even? Another guy put his hand on my leg when I said something about feminism and I felt the incoming of a chastising thought: That’s what I get for wearing fishnets. Then me and Emily made out with the same dude. Happy New Year! I’m gross and so are you!

I remember thinking: It takes years to change, not one night, not one week leading up to that one night. We should reflect on our choices and the course of our lives for more than just the one designated day in the year that makes us feel obligated to reflect in the first place…this is why I have never liked making resolutions. It’s why I’ve never taken New Years seriously. When the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still get drunk. We’ll still make mistakes. We’ll go back to our lives, not much different than the way they were the day before. Real change takes time. Not just this one week; not just this one night, this one time of year. Let’s have fun now. Worry about it tomorrow. Or don’t. Who cares.

“You have a body like a cactus.”

Get over it, or do something about it. Either way, stop taking yourself so seriously.

☁︎

12/31/2015: All the Christmas gifts I received from my friends this year seemed to share a common theme: Laziness. No joke. Every single gift I got from my friends emphasized a different component of my newly developed I’m-Indifferent-To-Life complex. The first one being: Social Laziness. I ripped the tissue paper off a wine glass that said, “I will never be drunk enough to like you.” Then, the second one: Professional Laziness. I uncovered a T-shirt that said, “I hate my job.” (My friend would defend this purchase by saying, “You know, you like writing. But you always hate your actual job…that’s why I got it. Don’t hate me.”) And finally, the third: Hygienic Laziness. Another T-shirt that said, “Straight ‘Outta Bed”, in the style of “Straight ‘Outta Compton”…

I remember sitting there, in a pile of I-could-care-less-about-everything-and-you paraphernalia and wondering: Wow, is my lethargy THAT obvious? I really thought I was doing a good job at faking an interest in being a functioning adult…

Which only led to more self-conscious thoughts like: Maybe this is the year I finally cross over and become a full-fledged nihilist. I sleep next to a crusty bowl of yogurt every night. So. Yeah. I’m preeeeetty hedonistic…

Brief hiatus: Recently, at work, a customer mocked me to my face.

I was just trying to explain why her dumb ass gift-wrap was ringing up a dollar fifty instead of fifty cents—I know, right? God forbid she pay one fucking dollar more than what she initially expected. But anyway, I simply said, in a monotone voice, “This wrapping paper was originally three dollars, so like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale. It just wasn’t one of the dollar rolls. That’s why it’s ringing up this way.”

And I shit you not, she closed her eyes half-way, swayed her head around like she was trying to keep her balance, and made this weird monotone stoned-person voice as she restated what I’d said, “So like, you’re still getting the fifty percent off sale…Who’s your manager? Where’s a real worker?”

My jaw actually dropped. It took everything in me to not say: You presumptuous cunt—YES, SHE DESERVES EVERY CONSONANT AND VOWEL!—forgive my lack of enthusiasm. I’m not exactly happy about being overqualified, underpaid, and then constantly shit on because of trite crap, like your dying dream of getting gift-wrap for free. But I didn’t. I clenched my teeth. I hissed out a smile and directed her to a “real” worker, “The store manager is over there. Have a nice day.” *poop and sparkle emoji, bitch* (I now wear my “I hate my job” T-shirt underneath all my work clothes. I delude myself into believing that a world exists where I can rip off my work polo like superman and reveal who I truly am: I hate my job; I quit. Thank you for the gift of semi-liberation, Emily.)

Anyway, the whole point is, on top of my apathy—I. Am. So. Angry. At all times. I honestly believe my conscious effort to maintain a state of indifference is actually just my only alternative to not being in a constant state of rage. So yeah. 2016? Suck my dick. I don’t have the time or energy to contemplate resolutions, new beginnings, “looking forward” to a glittering something. Because, right now, my main focus is maintaining a certain level of cool—not ripping the first person to rub me the wrong way a new one, every second, of every day. Like: Don’t explode—be cool—don’t explode…

Well-meaning customers say, “Happy New Year!”

And I think,

I hope the sun explodes so I don’t have to.

Right before I smile and lie,

“You too!”

☁︎

2015 ended like this: Life sucks, guess I’ll wear a giant bow. I put the gaudy thing on my head and felt satisfied with myself for a whole two seconds. I strapped a sparkly pink purse shaped like a unicorn to my body and thought something insane like: Now I’m ready. I’m ready to be happy. Emily and I pre-gamed and watched Pippi Longstocking as we got nostalgic for A Little Princess. “Oh my god I loved that movie more than anything,” she said, “I think I’d cry if I watched it now.” And I said, “Dude, I was that girl. I daydreamed and made up stories all the time because the world felt so boring until I had time to rearrange it all inside my head.” Coincidentally, I said this as Pippi Longstocking punched the shit out of a dunce cap and, eventually, flew away from all her problems.

Later, at the bar, an acquaintance sat down next to me and asked, “How’ve you been Cat?” and with my social-filter worn thin by vodka I said, “You know. The standard. 100% indifferent to everything.” He said, “Same.” Then we giggled over Nihilist Arby’s tweets like: “Dildos, Arby’s, and the finality of death”, and “Your life will be forgotten, enjoy Arby’s”, and “Come to Arby’s and contemplate how old you’ve become”, and, finally, my personal favorite, “Pretend you’re not dying. There is no God, from Arby’s”. After that one, still laughing, I said, “What if that was how people capped off casual everyday statements? Like: Happy New Year, there is no God…Why is it so funny?! How did roast beef find nihilism?!” He laughs and I’m so glad he gets the joke. I’m so glad he’s got sleepy blue eyes that understand why I need this pillow-y dream called depression. I’m so glad that something about him reminds me of a Dalmatian Ty Beanie Baby…But—you can only be comfortably drunk and enjoying the company of a guy who actually appreciates you for so long before your vices sense your newfound fun and decide to disrupt everything via text:

Where are you?

The whole time I was thinking: Do not text back. It’s a trap. It’s always a trap.

But a knot in my gut—a reckless hope that maybe he was finally ready to be normal—had taken control of my thumbs and, suddenly, I’d started typing against my will: I’m at location A. Where are you?

Location B, he typed, About to go to location C. Who you with?

And drunk-me texted back, a little passive-aggressively: The world.

Which was a joke. Like, I was drunk—just being stupid. There was nothing to get. The whole conversation didn’t have to crumble because my drunk-self sent one text that didn’t make any sense…

What? He asked.

Do you want me to come to location C? I sent back.

Nope. He said.

And with that final ping-sounding rejection, I felt it coming. I was about to explode.

Why even text me? That’s idiotic. I sent.

And with every minute that went by without a response I was thinking: Be cool. Don’t explode. Do not explode. Be cool, be cool, be cool…But no, I violated the number one rule when communicating with unrequited crushes. I double, triple, quadruple, texted:

Why are you so mean to me?

What’s even the point?

*middle finger emoji*

☁︎

2016 started like this: I let forty-five minutes pass without an explanation, and during this time, I contemplated every awkward situation, every weird and confusing position, this guy has put me in. All the times he’s told me to do one thing, and then just as quickly said, Wait no, don’t. Literally. One time he texted me verbatim: Come over, I’m sleeping. Which is practically the equivalent of saying: Come over, I’m not home. Like, I don’t know what you want from me dude. You’re going to have to be a little more explicit. Or. Just. You know. Don’t contact me at all…

I recounted all the times I flat out asked him to just give it to me straight, to say something cut and dry, like: I just don’t like you that way. How he refused to do it, because surely, I was an ego boost that felt really good whenever he was alone—Why give that up if you don’t have to? I count the times I’ve told him, “If you don’t really want anything to do with me, seriously, just leave me alone.” Like, honestly. Don’t contact me. Please. I’m begging you: IGNORE ME HARDER. But he won’t. Instead he continues to ruin my fun, through his fucking cellphone.

How selfish. How calculated. How fucking mean. And I know you can’t control people. I know there’s nothing you can do to change them. But fuck, I thought, so what if he’s emotionally impenetrable, so what if it won’t change anything—It’ll feel so good—for me—to say what I think…

And suddenly, I had one resolution: Explode on this motherfucker.

I put it into action. I typed it all out:

I’m trying to figure out all the ways to tell you to fuck off, but seriously, fuck off. Do not talk to me. At all. For any reason. I don’t like you at all as a person, and you are exactly who I thought you were. So. Just leave me alone. Fuck off.

And the moment I hit send, I smiled like a maniac because: I was so relieved.

Don’t get me wrong; I was still miserable as fuck for the rest of the night. One poor guy almost got caught in the crossfire. He approached me, moments after the big send-off, saying, “You’re too beautiful to be so sad.” Which, lucky for him, my friend noticed my head spinning around like the exorcist and intervened before I got the chance to rip his face off. “No…that’s okay. We’re good,” she said.

Another person said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” And I know this consolation was supposed to be a nice gesture, but I couldn’t help but totally bristle at it. Because, like, I really couldn’t give a flying fuck whether or not I “find someone”. I just want evasive jerks to leave me alone. Or, you know, for someone to match my sincerity instead of taking advantage of it for a change. *resting bitch face*

I was relieved, but I was also exhausted.

All I wanted was to be alone…

And then I heard that un-holy ping of my phone. Apparently my “fuck off” explosion had provoked a response, the message said: Come to location C. Please.

“Is this a joke?”

I responded: No.

⭐︎

When I finally got home, I looked in the mirror and checked the symmetry of my face to make sure it was still there: Too beautiful to be so sad. I thought in response: Yeah, that’s what they all say: “Too beautiful, too beautiful…” What the fuck is my life? Am I Effy Stonem on a bad trip in the woods? Am I that sick in the head? That desperate? Startling the nearest “nice guy” awake by screaming, “Hit me! I want to feel something!”? Getting reprimanded like: “Too pretty for your own good, that’s why you destroy everything you touch”? Ugh. Fuck off. Quit bringing peoples’ faces into this. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you are, people still treat you like shit. You’re still always going to be enchanted by the one person who refuses to see you…

I crawled into bed, my makeup still on and already irritating my skin—but I didn’t care. My mind was finally shutting up and all I can remember is the last thing I heard, right before drifting off to sleep for the first time in 2016…All I remember hearing is Lana Del Rey’s sad-siren voice, brainwashing me: You’re my cult leader / I love you forever / I love you forever…

☁︎

I feel really out of control when it comes to pretty much everything in my life. Can’t you tell? Isn’t it obvious? Good. I’m over pretending. I’m over smiling and saying, “Have a nice day.” Because it’s not nice at all, it’s actually like this: There is no God. Enjoy your roast beef sandwich.

Just kidding.

Sort of.

I don’t know.

I’m just so sick of being treated like I’m light and silly.

Like I’m air:

Where’s a real worker?

Do you want to see me?

Nope.

Every single external aspect of me is a conscious effort to not be perceived as light and silly. Armor against my reality: I am naturally inclined to see you before me; one of those girls who says her pain’s a two when it’s actually a ten, because—I don’t want to discredit whatever level yours might be. In a word, I am Vulnerable. Extremely susceptible to the whims and charms of anyone who lacks a moral compass that only comes by being acutely self-aware.

Therefore I wear black to seem more intimidating—boots and high top sneakers to disrupt my obvious femininity. I try to be as thin as my health will allow because bone visibility implies that I am not afraid to go without: Hold me around the middle and comment on how small I am. See? I don’t want anything from you. You make no difference to me. I keep quiet in numbers—around anyone I don’t know intimately. Playing stoic is my go-to defense because the moment I open my mouth, I blush or I stutter. I apologize. I punctuate every statement with, “It’s stupid. I know it’s so stupid.” Everyone will find out that I’m scared shitless of what they think.

Ugh.

Constantly I’m wondering how I can think so much and still have nothing to say…still feel as if I have nothing to offer…

Yes. Parts of me are light and silly: I try not to take myself so seriously. I try to laugh everything off because: It’s okay. If it’s okay for me, then maybe it’ll be okay for you. And when I let go enough to reveal this part of me it means I trust you; it means I’m going to try my hardest to only see the best in you. But what you don’t seem to understand is that, my doing this is not an invitation to take me for granted; to rationalize my existence as being less real than your own. It’s not an invitation to trap me in a box marked “EASY”—to force me into something that is all yours for the taking and leaving…

I’m light and silly, but there’s depth to me too.

Quit trapping me in boxes…never mind, fuck it, I’ll do it to myself.

I have no control over anything.

Box me up.

☁︎

New Years Day: I met a self-described “mystical” gay man who could tell I had a tilted uterus just by looking into my eyes. (This is not a joke. I am not making this up. This happened. Nobody believes me! But this shit happened.) He looked at me and said, “Honey, you have a bad uterus.”

I quickly shielded my pelvis from his third eye, “Excuse me?! What?!” Which is actually a really polite response considering he was a bug-eyed stranger making bold statements about my reproductive system.

You’re uterus,” he emphasized, keeping a straight face without losing the sass, “Is tilted.”

I glanced around the room to make sure no one was around to watch me take him seriously. “Are you psychic or something?” I asked, inching in closer, “Because—I do, I do have a tilted uterus.” (I know this because my gynecologist can never find it, which is awkward as fuck…)

“Yes,” he said, “I am.”

So matter of fact.

Like dude, you can’t just walk around telling women their uteruses suck! Control yourself! Unless, of course, the woman you’re talking to is me, in which case…

“Tell me more!”

I pulled up a stool and he made me look into his eyes, which, I know—I totally know—he was so fucking with me. He was totally going to speak in absolutes and trick me into believing that he was unraveling my “special” fate and not just some variation of everyone’s shitty reality; a series of verbal placebos…But I couldn’t help myself. I needed to feel as if I had some semblance of a grasp on my future—no matter how phony—and he knew it.

So.

Tell me more.

“The person you’ve been thinking about,” he said, “You don’t want him. You think you do, but you don’t.”

“Oh my god, I fucking hope not,” I said, a little too quickly, right before I consciously shut up. I reigned myself back in. I didn’t want to reveal too much by mistake; I wanted to test how good this guy was at his whole pseudo-psychic-messes-with-a-gullible-girl front. So I collected myself, “Good—I mean—I could have told you that. But good. I know I don’t want him.”

“But you do want him,” he said, rolling his eyes, “At least you think you do.”

“Well, I figured I’d just wait it out. So—so what? You can want something but also know you don’t really want it. I’m just waiting it out. Does it really matter if I ‘think’ I want him?”

“Yes because you think you can handle any man—you’re very tame in the sense that, when you’re done, you’re done…but him, you can’t handle. Trust me. You’re not going to see it coming…”

Um is it just me, or did shit just get dark?

“What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“You think you can tell what a lot of people are going to do before they do it, and most of the time you can. So you put your intuition on hold in favor of experiencing new things and understanding people who aren’t like you, but…you can’t do that with him. Trust your gut; everything you’ve been wondering about him is correct. If you want proof, you’re not dumb, do your research.

When he said “do your research” he did that sassy dismissive thing, like snapping your fingers in someone’s face without actually making them snap. Then he took a very satisfied sip from his drink as if life were a meme and he was Kermit, drinking Truth Tea: That guy you crushin’ on is Satan…it’s none of my business though…

“You’re going to have to be more specific,” I said, “Like…what is it that I’ve been wondering about him that’s true?”

“That…” He took a minute to gaze into my “soul” before he continued, “He has a lot of rage, and…” he trailed off as if he were trying to think of the right word, but then he just kind of settled. With the energy of a deflating balloon he finished his thought, “Sadness.”

Vague. But. Okay.

“Yeah, well, everyone has their shit,” I said, trying not to make eye contact.

“But you don’t!” He said, “You see and appreciate more than a lot of people; you have depth but you’re not angry about it…he’s not what you want. It makes sense that you’d want to lose yourself in an opposite, but, at the same time, you’re good and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

My eyes averted like: Who is this strange man sipping Grey Goose and spewing deep truths in downtown Jamestown? Like: No. Go home. You are fucking with me. Why does this always happen? Why am I so receptive and gullible? Now I’m going to analyze this conversation for days. I’m going to wonder, on and on; all because some guy took a chance and used a statistic he found on Google—Fun fact: 30% of women have tilted uteruses—to his advantage. I’m going to keep asking myself over and over: Why do my feelings never match up with what I think or what I want?

My eyes moved to the floor, I didn’t want to give away my obvious state of confliction, that I’d heard some truth in what he’d said. I was about to say: Thank you for confirming that I’m as out of control of my own life as I think I am—Happy New Year.

But before I could, he changed the whole game. He quickly added, “It’s your choice though. Everything’s your choice.”

☁︎

After that whole weird exchange, I kept contemplating clichés about lightness and darkness: You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light. I typed out melodramatic prose with the notepad on my iPhone: “Being with you is like being trapped in a dark box; I don’t know whether left is right or right is left. I can’t climb my way out; there are four walls and nothing to grab onto; there’s nothing to look at and there’s no easy way out. All I can do is keep clawing at the first wall I make contact with, keep clawing until shit gets so worn out that something’s either got to give or…”

I gave up typing.

I didn’t know who or what I was writing about and that’s the whole problem. It’s the inverse of “like a moth to a flame”—How do I describe it? Does that image exist? It’s not the light—some concrete thing—that I’m being drawn to. It’s the dark-nothing I’m being forced into. The best image I can come up with is a black hole, or a sinkhole. Just, everything suddenly caving in beneath my feet; slipping into dark other-worlds and cutting real-life like cutting college classes; some real soul-sucking loopholes: Alcohol? The evasive jerk of the week? The four collaged walls of my childhood bedroom?

I don’t know what I want.

This is always when the trouble starts.

When I don’t know what I want, I start setting my mind’s phasers to: SELF-DESTRUCT. When there’s nothing to want, nothing real to be drawn to, I allow myself to get all sucked up in the exact opposite of what I need. I make prisons out of people and places and things. Like, I must be wildly unhappy with myself. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so complacent with being forced into this thing that’s not even a thing. But, god, it’s so G.D. comfortable at the bottom of a sinkhole where there’s nothing to lose; where everything’s always going deeper and deeper, and getting darker and darker, and you can pretend the whole world’s in your orbit. Where dreams can circle round your head and you don’t have to sacrifice any of them because—they’re not tangible. You haven’t even tried traveling to them yet. You can put the light in the dark but you can’t put the dark in the light: Fuck, I love the dark so much. I could quietly burn away in it forever, until natural causes snuffed me out…

But. 

I don’t want to live a life like that!

Not really!

I don’t want to be boxed away forever! 

I’ve got to claw my way out. But knowing this doesn’t change the fact that getting out is going to be painful as hell. It doesn’t change the fact that whatever’s on the other side might not be any better than all the nothing I’m leaving behind…

“It’s your choice…everything’s your choice.”

Goddam you, Psychic!!! I was so happy being indifferent and engaging in 0 self-reflection before you guessed the correct position of my uterus.

See, I forget all the time that we can change—that we have some control over our futures. I forget that it’s easy to point at some trite list of misfortunes and say, This is why I can’t do A, B, C, D… It’s easy to do that, and it’s hard to actually bite the bullet, to wake up and do things that might actually make a difference.

All the time I hear myself saying: I can’t leave this place that I hate, filled with people I don’t respect, where I don’t fit in, because I’m over my head in student debt and I’m poor. I say: I’ll never get paid to write what I want because I’m not affluent, so, who would want me? What grad school, what publisher, what credible platform with any real literary pull, would ever want borderline anonymous Catherine Olson from Jamestown, New York? Sounds like a liability. I’d rather drive in circles. I’d rather keep singing along: “It’s so easy in this blue where everything is good…”

I know the resolution’s simple.

We can change.

It’s our choice.

But…

But what?!

What do I want?

☁︎

01/07/2016: I really suck at writing endings lately because the first ending I wrote for this post read like a fucking sitcom—which just isn’t me. See, I don’t believe in fate, but I’d like to say, “everything happens for a reason”, and “I feel so lucky to have a heart that can be broken”, and “my resolution is to finally start wanting what’s good for me” but—that would just be one long string of bullshit, and I wouldn’t feel good writing any of it.

Some stuff happens and it’s just shitty for no reason. Actually, all bad things that happen are absolutely pointless and accidental; a sick joke. Or, in another sick twisted way, they’re not accidental at all. Sometimes you stick your toe in a sinkhole that you totally saw coming and say, “Whoopsi!” as you fall. Like you weren’t totally planning to make a cozy prison out of the bottom, like you weren’t totally waiting for some opportune trauma to come along and distract you from figuring out what’s actually hurting you and holding you back in the first place.

And what’s holding me back?

The fact that I love this rundown place that is my home: I love these roads where the houses don’t change. I love how the other night I was at a college-kid apartment with a drawer full of plastic forks. How we ate Kraft mac ‘n cheese mixed with pepper jack and drank peach whiskey straight from the bottle as my could-have-been high school sweetheart swatted at an overhanging wire like a giant kitten. How water-damaged joker cards littered the coffee table like an ill-fated tarot reading. How all the guys here have dirt or oil beneath their fingernails, how they’re all masculine to the point of toxicity; callous rage-filled types who drive big trucks and think I’m pretty but will never be well-read enough to love me back. How easy it is to be detached here, how easy it is because real life is always happening elsewhere, how this makes us all act frozen and manifests a kind of grittiness that we can’t seem to wash off no matter where we go. How it makes me feel like I’m trapped in a frayed box that was used and kicked to the curb by the real world one too many times…

My cozy dark prison is my home and I know it’s never going to love me back. All the potholes—the dead hard ground—the kitchen floors boasting detritus…none of it’s ever going to love me back, because, it’s fucking detritus—it can’t feel for shit. But god, these ordinary things break my heart in a way that leaves me nuzzling them at all of the rough spots. This place is mental illness and I’m nothing but a lovesick bitch for it, consciously avoiding it and telling it to fuck off a thousand times over. Always running right back to it the moment it starts calling at three in the morning…

Come over, I’m dreaming.

I guess my resolution is to never stop taking the ugly—painfully ordinary—things that happen to me and turning them into something meaningful, to never stop rearranging them in a way that looks beautiful and worthwhile. To never stop making sense of this life that I believe is utterly senseless; a big dumb joke in which I just roll with the punches and mock everything in a way that only a poet can…

As for what I want? I’d like to say that I want to start wanting what’s good for me. But. What’s good for me? I can’t tell. I just know I want 2016 to be a year of actually doing something—no more dreaming! I want 2016 to be a year of saying, “fuck off” to this place for the last time, and then, maybe, finally, actually, clawing my way out…

 

Confessions of a Voluntary Misfit: High School and Friendship and that “Left Out” Shit

high school angst2“In adolescents, the need to break away from the past is as powerful as the drive to reproduce the species.” –Joyce Carol Oates, “What Sin to Me Unknown”

I’ve been itching to write about high school and friendship because the signs that say: This. Essay. Needs. To. Happen. Seem to be cropping up everywhere—Poems written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me have surfaced. Last year, a childhood friend simultaneously complimented and insulted me. A few months ago, the guy I pined for my entire freshman year pulled my hair. This time last week, a bitch waved at me…See, I’ve been avoiding this topic because I know it’s going to get ugly—as dealings of the teenage heart often do—and I don’t want to offend anyone. I don’t want to rehash old wounds and put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity”. I want to be what the real housewives call the “bigger” person. I want to rationalize everyone’s shitty behavior and say: It probably wasn’t as bad as I remembered. *phony laughter* We’re so grown up now! Let’s talk like we’re 40 even though we’re actually 23! Let’s pretend like high school wasn’t five minutes ago! *rainbows, butterflies, poop emoji*

But then I came across that poem written by Thirteen-Year-Old-Me, titled, “Mom, I’m Fine. Just Leave Alone in My Room to Die.” and I had a rude awakening—it was definitely as bad as I remembered.

The poem was about being alone in my room on a Friday night while everyone else was accumulating the inside jokes that would eventually decorate their AIM profiles and leave me with that nauseating “left out” feeling. At first, Now-Me found the whole thing hilarious. Like: That title is melodramatic as fuck and those closing lines are just tragic. (I wish I was joking, but the closing lines went: “Lie on my bedroom floor / sing to the cat / yeah my life is basically kind of like that.”) However, after laughing, I got this horrible sinking feeling for Thirteen-Year-Old-Me because Now-Me realized that her memories of being left out were real—the evidence was in my hands, straight from the shitty poem writing horse’s pen, circa 2005.

I shoved the notebook back into the dusty bookshelf from whence it came and tried to forget about it.

But I couldn’t forget about it.

All I could think about was high school and friendship and that “left out” shit—imaginary social divisions and random acts of teenage cruelty. Then all these unwanted interactions with people I hoped I would never see again happened, and I thought about it all even more: Leaving dances early, switching lunch tables, faking sick four times a month, loyalty as an endangered principle, critical thinking as the greatest threat, frequency of text messages as validation, everyone deriving false confidence from the misguided certainty that they know more about you than you…I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s newfound “maturity” but I’m going to.

I’m going to write about high school and friendship. I’m going to rehash old wounds, and if that makes me the “lesser” person, so be it. I don’t care. The number one rule for writing personal essays—don’t be the hero—says I should be the lesser person anyway. So fuck it. This is my chance to be the exact opposite of the hero, the anti-hero. I’m the Walter White of this essay and I don’t care because what I’m really trying to say is: I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

“You’re really pretty now.” Someone I knew from high school said that shit to my face. And. I. Just. Froze. Like: Excuse me? Now? It’s the kind of compliment that leaves you feeling mugged. One that brings back all the insecurity you felt in the years leading up to it. You ask yourself: If what she said is supposed to be nice then why do I feel like punching her in the face? Oh, because it was actually a really rude thing to say, and this person wasn’t always very nice to you—especially when it came to your appearance and clothes. That’s why.

“You’re really pretty now.”

I smile and say thank you through clenched teeth because I’m as twofaced as everyone said I was in middle school—I can’t wait to turn around and complain about this to my real friends.

Then she says something mildly surprising, “You know, I feel kind of bad whenever I see you…” I’m about to renew my faith in humanity if the next thing to come out of her mouth is an apology, but it’s not. It’s this:

“I feel kind of bad whenever I see you because everything is so different in high school. You know. There’s just this way of thinking in high school that says: This person is this way, and that person is that way…”

It’s a non-apology just like the first thing she said to me was a non-compliment. It’s saying sorry without actually saying sorry, like being nice without actually being nice. She thinks she’s leveling out the playing field. She’s saying because I was different from her in high school she was never obligated to be decent to me. She’s not saying sorry. She’s saying: That’s just the way things were. No hard feelings, right?

 And. It. Makes. Me. Livid.

I resist the urge to say: No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I resist the urge to ask: Am I really pretty now? Or were you just never looking at me correctly? Have you ever considered that maybe your view of the world has always been majorly fucked up? Have you ever considered any perspective beyond your own? Maybe it’s not your place to decide what beauty is and isn’t. Maybe I don’t need to hear that you think I’m pretty now.

I resist the urge to say anything. I just smile and nod knowingly. I play dumb like I always do. We hug and she walks away with a clear conscience. I let her have that reassurance because I know something that she doesn’t know—How beautiful it is to be misunderstood. Like: Thank you for contributing to the social anxiety that has made me the steadfast, self-aware, and perceptive person that I am. I wish you well, but I don’t forgive you.

☁︎

There’s an episode of HBO’s Girls where Adam takes off into the woods for an impromptu hike and in response Hannah just flops on the ground and says, “It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate. So you go ahead. You live your truth. I’ll be here, living my truth.” I love that scene because, even though it’s just one more example of Hannah’s unwavering laziness, it emphasizes a power that everyone seems to become conscious of in their twenties: The ability to say no to shit you hate.

Want to work a double tonight? Nope. Would you like an Adderall? Not really. Want to engage in a stimulating conversation about music with hipsters? Trick question: Nah. Netflix and chill? [No response.] Are you going to wave back to that girl who was supposed to be your friend but then put your sex life on blast in her AIM profile when you were in 10th grade and, apparently, has the nerve to act like it never happened? Fuck. No.

I see you waving and all I see is, Go suck another fat kid’s dick, written in tiny black Arial font and highlighted in aqua. You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I wasn’t a role model, and I never claimed to be one. I wasn’t some blank template for you and everyone else to project their weird ideals of virtue onto. I wasn’t even a hypocrite. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. I was a teenager, just like you—eager, impulsive, confused, human. I was a girl who didn’t deserve what happened because none of us did, or do, and you know it. Go suck another fat kid’s dick. That’s all I see when I see you.

You’re waving at me and saying my name in a voice that’s one too many octaves above natural. You’re trying to pretend like you didn’t urge anyone to ostracize me six years ago. You’re trying to pretend like we were always friends and it never made you happy to watch me fuck up—like you weren’t always rooting for me to fail.

I see you and I don’t have the energy to wave back to you, not anymore. You have to understand that there are some wounds that are too deep. Too real. A big smile and a friendly wave won’t mend them. It’s as simple as this: I’m sad because you hurt me. I’m angry because you’re trying to act like my pain and what you did to inflict it was never real. I don’t understand your sudden and aggressive acts of kindness, and I won’t respond to them.

I see you waving and I’m going to walk right past you.

It’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate.

☁︎

About a week after my college graduation, I went to drink with some guy-friends from high school. The group was small and everyone there was someone that I still consider a friend—people I care about and genuinely like—with the exception of one person…

“Cat Olson?! Where the fuck have you been?”

My brain panicked as it scanned his face and gathered the details: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, 1st Asshole you ever liked, sat at your lunch table freshman year, picked apart your physical characteristics daily, once feigned affection for you just to prove you had a crush on him, constantly used you to make other girls jealous, always smelled really good; thank god his hairline’s receding…

I thought: I can do this. I can be civil. It’s okay. Just don’t smell him.

But it was not okay because twenty minutes later he pulled my hair, like full on grabbed my messy bun and tugged the shit out of it. He pulled so hard I had no choice but to lurch backward. He did it just because. Toddler’s logic, like: I see something I want to touch and not only am I going to touch it, I’m going to wreck it. And I don’t know if it was the beer, or feminism, or the infantile stupidity of his action, but like a reflex I stood up and screamed: “YOU DON’T GET TO TOUCH ME NOW!”

And the look of shock on his face somehow made me angrier, like: Doesn’t this dude understand that when you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts? Didn’t any of us realize in high school that there are people, just as real as ourselves, on the other end of our actions—on the other end of our cell phones and computers and fingers and words? Did anyone realize this before the age of 20?! Because that look of shock on people’s faces whenever somebody gets upset has me wondering if nobody did, and some people never do.

When you pull someone’s hair, that shit hurts.

Now face it motherfucker.

☁︎

I should probably say that I was severely depressed in high school—the real kind, the diagnosed kind. And I know it’s unfair to blame that on anyone, or even to say: I just wish someone had noticed. Especially when I didn’t even know I was depressed—at least not until my senior year. It’s unfair. I know it’s so unfair. And I know my anger seems so trite like: Why the fuck are you holding onto this shit? But it’s just—I really wanted and needed friends. Girlfriends. Real friends. The kind that just wanted to do dumb shit and laugh about it; the kind that said I love you and I’m sorry and were sincere.

I didn’t have that.

I didn’t have some band of girlfriends that I’d known since I was twelve validating my existence and reinforcing my every choice and opinion, or even wanting to compare schedules with me. For the most part, I took on everyday alone—my likes and dislikes, my interests, my classes, music, fashion, makeup, boys, heartbreak…I trudged and waded through all that bullshit and figured out who I was on my own.

And on some level, this is my fault: I’m a misfit who chose to be a misfit. But on another level, I also know, I was very earnest in high school—very willing to forgive and love and apologize to anyone who demonstrated some semblance of respect for me.

I have to stand my ground and say: I know I’m not perfect, but I’m a really decent person at heart.

I don’t think my memories of being mistreated are inaccurate.

I don’t think my anger is misguided.

I’m tired of rationalizing everyone else’s shitty behavior.

☁︎

When I was thirteen I wrote: “There’s nothing but outdated earth behind me.” And I find it kind of hilarious, like: Who the fuck did I think I was, Thoreau? But I also find it surprising. I find it surprising that, at that age, I understood that there’s so much more to life than this—Jamestown and its weird social hierarchies, its prejudices and aversions to anything new or honest or real.

Like goddam, life isn’t high school!

Just because you’re in what everyone likes to call “dumb” classes, doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. Just because people make snide comments about your clothes, doesn’t mean you don’t look good. Just because you’re quiet and mousey, doesn’t mean you’re not listening, that you’re not there! People can talk all they want but They. Don’t. Know. They don’t know more about you than you. If they don’t “get” you one day, that doesn’t mean they won’t absolutely want to someday. And when that day comes, don’t kill them with kindness; just totally annihilate them with the truth. You’ll be so far ahead that it won’t even matter, there’ll be nothing to lose, like: Nobody can touch me now…

Confession: I was listening to a lot of My Chemical Romance when I wrote this.

I looked up the music video for “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” and felt the rage. There’s just something about Gerard Way wailing I’M NOT OKAY!!!!!! in, what appears to be, a steadily increasing fever that makes you want to go back in time and walk the fuck out on every math teacher that had the nerve to publicly underestimate you. (Mr. Salvaggio, what’s good?!) I seriously think, in retrospect, that the greasy kids who shoved paper clips through their earlobes and got kicked out of class constantly were doing something right—God bless them, every single one.

But my point is: Where would all the voluntary misfit girls of the 2000’s be without My Chemical Romance’s honesty?!?! I was fourteen when Gerard Way first said, “I’m not okay,” And. It. Was. So. Vindicating. Enough of that I’m okay bullshit, I’m not okay. I’m not O-fucking-kay. You wear me ouuuuuuuuuut…He said it, and he looked it, and it was awesome. We needed that! Then MCR’s single “Sing” came out in 2010 and I realized that I’m a major sucker for artists who root for the underdog because one of the song’s lyrics are: Girl, you’ve got to be what tomorrow needs, and it’s lame, and I’m corny, but I find that shit so inspiring. Be what tomorrow needs.

The voluntary misfit girls of tomorrow don’t need our good vibes-bigger person-I’m so mature now-bullshit. They need the truth. They need what’s real, and what’s weird, and what hurts. They need all that with a little bit of hope at the end. Because when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17… I needed My Chemical Romance. I needed Harry Potter and Sloane Crosley and Lady Gaga and The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I needed Taylor Swift to embarrass the fuck out of John Mayer by putting his name in a song. I needed someone to be honest—I’m not okay. I’m not o-fucking-kay. These things and their creators, they were what tomorrow needed! So just:

Sing it for the boys
Sing it for the girls
Every time that you lose it sing it for the world
Sing it from the heart
Sing it til’ you’re nuts
Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
Sing it for the deaf
Sing it for the blind
Sing about everyone that you left behind…

Bottom line: If you have the guts to go above and beyond what Today expects, some people just aren’t going to understand you. Some people are even going to hate you. But that’s okay. All it means is that you’re doing something right. Like Emerson said—To be great is to be misunderstood—you’re doing what it takes to be great.

☁︎

A few days ago I ran into a girl I knew from middle school and high school. This girl and I were never really friends. I mean, we just never knew each other very well. She ran with a clique that wasn’t always the nicest or most inclusive, so I could kind of feel myself approaching the conversation with a level of passive-aggression that I’m not entirely proud of. But whatever.

She was talking about how she’d studied abroad when she said something along the lines of, “You know, I was kind of nervous about going away. About being out of the loop here, for that long.”

And I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know. I was never really in the loop, so I don’t know what it’s like to worry about that. Like, honestly, I never really felt like I fit in.”

I didn’t mean it maliciously. Of all the run-ins with people from high school that I’ve described, this was the first one where I didn’t mean for anything to be malicious. I said what I said as a matter of fact. I said it because it felt good to say.

“See,” she said, “that’s so sad.”

And in my dream-like, vodka-induced, state I could practically feel the stars aligning in my eyes as I said, “Actually, it’s not. I feel kind of lucky.” *sparkles, glitter, Britney Spears*

I just realized in that moment that this girl is nostalgic for high school in a way that I will never be, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I mean, I think I already knew this. I think I already knew I would never be nostalgic for high school because when I was in high school I was constantly nostalgic for…something more, something else:

I wish I could explain myself.
I wanted to melt into school walls
rather than shed tears on my silk dresses.
I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors
but I liked corners
and feeling nostalgic for the life of someone else.
I count on you all way too much.

Go away.

I wrote that shortly after high school graduation, and it’s pretty clear that I had this dire need to get the fuck out. High school, this place, these people, it was all holding me back from something more. And weirdly, I still wanted so badly to be a part of it: I wanted to melt into school walls…I wanted to be a part of your shiny floors. But it all went completely against my nature—I liked corners, dammit! Gimme that dunce cap and I’ll rock it like a crown. This is my space now, go away. I don’t forgive you!

No. Nostalgia for high school is a nostalgia I’ll never experience because I think, in high school, I was always nostalgic for the life that I’m leading, and the person that I am, right now. I’ve got a healthy sense of humor. I dress like the bad bitch I always knew I was. I have girlfriends who I love because they like to laugh and fuck up and then laugh some more—they give no shits about what anyone thinks and they never laugh behind my back. I have a boyfriend who reads as much as I do and never makes me feel as if my eccentricities are something to be ashamed of—not even my random feminist outbursts. I might not be rich, but I’m getting by. And no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine because I’ll always have writing to come home to. I’ll always have an endless imagination to get me through dark times because, even though I know what it’s like to be hopeless and angry, even though I’m hardwired for depression, at my core there is so much joy.

HASHTAG BLESSED MOTHERBITCHES!